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Connecting with Students: How Far is Too Far?

Meaghan Brown, Breanne Caldwell, Marcy Charles & Ashley Weiss

University of Calgary

Werklund School of Education

EDUC 525: L02



As professionals, teachers, pre-service teachers, and administrative staff associated with

teacher education programs have high ethical standards; and they should be held to these

standards. These standards embody and uphold “ethical values [and] speak to what [is] right or

wrong in human action” (Parsons, 2017b). In this paper the Connecting with Students (Parsons,

2017a) case study will be analyzed using relativist, teleological, and finally deontological ethics

to determine any lapses in ethical values, or breaches of ethical standards of those involved.

Relativist Ethics

Moral relativism states that what is “ethical in decision-making is determined by the

culture, the community, the past experiences of the decision-maker, by some group in power that

makes the rules, or simply by what works in the circumstances or the situation at hand” (Donlevy

& Walker, 2010). The ‘group in power’ here is the provincial teachers association. The ethical

decision making of all pre-service and service teachers is determined by a professional code of

conduct, a contract, set out by this group in power. The assumption within this paper is the code

of conduct, which will be now referred to as ‘the code,’ in Ontario aligns with Alberta’s.

The code states that a “teacher [must] act in a manner which maintains the honour and

dignity of the profession….and not engage in activities which adversely affect the quality of the

teacher’s professional service” (Alberta Teachers association (ATA), 2004). Based on these

understandings, Derricks actions and the administration from both educational facilities did not

act ethically. Derrick’s actions did not respect the rights of Max “to expect that student teachers

will engage in practices that aim to ensure [her] physical, psychological, and emotional safety”

(McGill, 2012). Further, both administrations acted dishonourably by allowing Derrick to

continue a relationship with a student that is considered morally and ethically wrong according to


the code. Thus, both Derrick and the administration from both education facilities undermined

the ethical contract that was laid out by the “group in power” (Donlevy & Walker, 2010): the

provincial teachers association. As such, the norms of the culture of the teachers association

were broken causing this breach in ethical relativism.

Teleological Ethics

Teleological ethics state that the judging factor of whether an action is deemed ethical or

unethical is ultimately based on the final result of an action. In other words, “decision[s] should

be judged to be ethical if it is made with the intention to create the greatest good” (Donlevy &

Walker, 2010). This approach to ethics means that individuals, prior to making a decision, must

ask themselves: “What will…the immediate [and long-term] consequences of my proposed

decision” (Donlevy & Walker, 2010) be upon myself and others? And, will this decision

negatively, or positively, affect all of those involved? In this case, it can be gathered that Derrick

did one of three things: a) did not pose these questions to himself before becoming involved with

Max, b) answered these questions and did not believe that involvement with a student would

have negative outcomes for all parties involved, or c) answered these questions, recognizing the

potential for adverse outcomes, and made a conscious effort to ignore them. All three plausible

situations indicate Derrick’s ethical misjudgement.

Further, the administrations of both schools did not act with the ‘greatest good’ in mind.

Both did not take into account the outcomes for the student, Max, during the course of their

relationship. Thus, both administrations put her in direct harms way, resulting in an impact on

both her learning environment and health.


Deontological Ethics

Deontological ethics designates “which choices are morally required, forbidden, or

permitted...[and] guide[s] and assess[es] our choices of what we ought to do” (Alexander &

Moore, 2016). In this case, Derrick did not follow his duty as a teacher. Firstly, he involved

himself in inappropriate conversations with students, in which he discussed waxing private body

parts with a group of students, in addition to divulging his own illegal drug use to Max. Derrick

broke the code by divulging personal information to students that compromised his authority as a

teacher. Even though he may have thought that he was having a ‘breakthrough’ and connecting

with the students, he did so in a way that was not appropriate, and could even be classified as

lacking dignity.

According to the code “teachers [must] treat pupils with dignity and respect and [be]

considerate of their circumstances” (ATA, 2004). Derrick was not considerate of the fact that

some of his students came from “less than adequate home [lives]” (Parsons, 2017) and thus,

could become over-attached to him after this breach of boundaries. It is clear that “some choices

cannot be justified by their effects—that no matter how morally good their consequences, some

choices are morally forbidden” (Alexander & Moore, 2016). Therefore, even though Derrick

may have had good intentions when entering into these conversations, as a teacher, he was

placed in a position of authority, to which these conversations blur the lines of trust and power.

Further, this inappropriate behaviour continued as he entered into an improper romantic

relationship with Max. In this situation Derrick did not consider Max’s vulnerable state, and was

in breach of the code. He jeopardized the “privileged relationship with [his] student…[and

perhaps] exploited [this] relationship” (McGill, 2012) with her, as her teacher. No part of this

was in the best interest of the pupil. This goes against the code, and is not how he ought to have


acted. He was placed in a position of trust and authority as her teacher and jeopardized her, her

learning environment, and her health. Even if he had considered the long term consequences for

Max and regarded them as positive, as stated in the teleological section of this paper, it still does

not make his actions ethical.

The same argument of an ethical lapse can be made regarding both the school and

university administrations. This is due to the fact that the school principal and university

supervisor knew what was occurring, and allowed it to occur with no repercussions. It was

administration’s duty to keep the safety of the students the number one priority. Allowing

Derrick to remain both in the high school, and in the university, as a student teacher is

unacceptable because Derrick put his student in harm's way. Regardless of his intentions he did

not behave as he ought to, he did not consider the sensitive circumstances of his student, and he

breached the code by entering into an inappropriate and unethical relationship with Max. Both

administrations were in a position of trust and authority, as Derrick was, and should have

ensured that Derrick upheld the code and behaved as he ought to. Due to the fact that both

parties knew he was in breach of the code and did nothing, provides the argument that they also

in breached the code, and acted unethically.


After analyzing this case using all three ethical principles, we believe that there was an

ethical lapse by all parties in the situation; Derrick, and the administrations of both Pierre

Trudeau High School and VW University. Each breached the ethical values of professionalism

and responsibility, resulting in the jeopardization of Max’s learning environment and health.

Derrick should not have compromised his position of trust as Max’s teacher by crossing

boundaries and forming an unethical relationship with her that overstepped his teaching


relationship. As soon as the high-school administration discovered Derricks inappropriate

actions, they should have taken action to protect their student. Further, once the university

administration found out, there should have been some repercussions against Derrick, perhaps

even leading up to his expulsion from the program. Not only did he breach the code, but he put a

student in harm’s way, and should not have the privilege to be placed in a position of trust as a

teacher again.



Alexander, L. & Moore, M. (2016). Deontological Ethics. In Stanford encyclopedia of

philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-


Alberta Teachers Association (ATA). (2004). Code of professional conduct. Retreived from



Donlevy, J.K., Walker, K.W. (2010). Working through Ethics in Education: Two Plays and

Ethical Analysis. Sense Publications, Netherlands.

Parsons, D. (2017a). Connecting with students [Class handout]. Retrieved from


Parsons, D. (2017b). October 19, 2017 Class # 11 [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from


McGill. (2012). Code of Professional Conduct: Code of Ethics for Student Teachers. Retrieved

from https://www.mcgill.ca/study/2012-