Conduct unbecoming a teacher: A study of the ethics of teaching in America

Daniel J DiCenso, University of Pennsylvania


Though the field of education has more often been concerned with understanding the institutional restrictions placed upon the conduct of students, the role(s) that teachers can play and the role(s) that teachers do play are very much caught up in what they ought and ought not do, who and what they ought and ought not be. The purpose of this study is to come to a better understanding of what is meant by current and historical usages of the term "conduct unbecoming a teacher" as it has been used to regulate teacher behavior through laws, public policies, and in the public media. In a comprehensive study of court records of "conduct unbecoming" charges wagered at police officers, military officers, and teachers in the period from 1980-2005, this study defines "unbecoming" behavior for each of these three professions (by compiling and comparing the statues, regulations, laws, and court proceedings that have wagered a "conduct unbecoming" charge), compares the usages the term among and between the professions, and analyzes how teachers have fared against the other two comparison groups when it comes to unbecoming accusations. In sum, the study shows that, in fact, "conduct unbecoming a teacher" charges more often operate as a secondary layer of moral rebuke for serious crimes that could have been prosecuted under the typology of other, existing laws. The study suggests, however, that the vagueness of the term "conduct unbecoming a teacher" and its history of being involved in the over-scrutiny of teachers private lives has caused "unbecoming" statues to be perceived as broader threat to personal liberty. In the end, it is argued that the usage of term as seen in the cases of the last 25 years serves no worthwhile purpose.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|School administration

Recommended Citation

DiCenso, Daniel J, "Conduct unbecoming a teacher: A study of the ethics of teaching in America" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3197667.