The news that all staff members at a small King Country school were still not vaccinated within a week of the government’s mandatory Nov. 15 deadline underscores how challenging the next few weeks could be.
Next Monday marks the day that teachers must have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine if they want to continue working with students in a face-to-face learning environment.
It will also be the day when educational leaders learn with some certainty who their vaccine-reluctant colleagues are, and when the career paths of many committed educators come to a crossroads.
Given that some schools seem likely to face significant staff shortages, the teaching profession now has to seriously struggle with how to demonstrate the value of manaakitanga to all colleagues, including the unvaccinated.
The responsibility code
As a fully registered teacher (as well as academic), I will be free to teach in New Zealand schools, alert levels permitting, because I am doubly vaccinated. But I know that is not the case for some of my very talented and committed colleagues who have refused the Pfizer jab.
I can only imagine the professional identity crises these colleagues must be experiencing.
I am thinking of those teachers who sincerely believe that they are honoring their commitment to society, adopted in the Aotearoa New Zealand Teaching Council Code of Professional Responsibility (TCANZ), by upholding New Zealanders’ human rights to bodily autonomy.
I’m thinking of those teachers who passionately believe that they are honoring their commitment to society by displaying ethical integrity to stand up to a power that they believe is misleading the public.
I’m thinking of those teachers who believe they are “leading by the example” of a critically reflective practitioner by refusing to get vaccinated.
And I am thinking of my own commitment to those teachers as my professional colleagues, despite my fundamental disagreement with their beliefs against vaccination.
Teaching as an ethical activity
The TCANZ guidance document for teachers – Our Code, Our Standards – describes the ethical commitments of all teachers. The council recognizes that for the code to be “proprietary,” professional engagements should not be viewed as a list of prescribed rules.
Rather, it is a set of agreed-upon aspirations that foster collaborative conversations among professionals about the ethical nature of their work.
There is no question that the vaccine mandate will require some of the most ethically challenging conversations that teachers of both vaccination fields will have in their professional careers.
However, that’s no reason to shy away from collegiate awkwardness. One of New Zealand’s leading educational thinkers, the late Ivan Snook, believed that teaching is an innate ethical activity as it involves close personal relationships, especially between colleagues.
Snook also provides us with a smart guide on how we can tackle these challenging discussions. He addresses the fundamental tension teachers face when trying to persuade others to adopt a point of view that they believe is demonstrably rational.
Snook frames this tension as the “conflicting obligations to respect the student’s state of mind and also to move him toward a more adequate understanding and enlightened practice.”
An ethic of care
As colleagues who argue with those who disagree with us about the mandate of the vaccine, we must be willing to uphold the ethical integrity of alternative views, while providing rational alternatives based on credible scientific evidence.
Nor should we condemn those who distrust authority. As Snook argues, an important task for educators is to help others understand the importance and limitations of all authorities.
I am hopeful that over the next several months we will see the code truly become “our code” as it guides both vaccinated and unvaccinated teachers to have these respectful conversations about what it is like to be an ethical and critically thoughtful teacher in a community. society of the country. grip of a global pandemic.
But if the code is to guide teachers through these difficult conversations, it must be used with care. If it is simply a weapon of entrenched positions, there is nothing to be gained.
Educational philosopher Nel Noddings said that conversations of this complexity must occur within an “ethic of care” that is sensitive to the relationships in which we all must continue to live.
In the spirit of whanaungatanga, I encourage my vaccinated and unvaccinated colleagues to be courageous and use the code to discuss the vaccine mandate within that ethic of care.
Let’s decide together what that is and what it means to be an ethical teacher in Aotearoa New Zealand at this defining moment for our profession.
* Paul Heyward is Director of Initial Teacher Education at the University of Auckland. Disclosure Statement: I have publicly commented on the development and implementation of the Teaching Council Document “Our Codes, Our Standards” in the media.