Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Opinion
Education Opinion

Moral Distress in Teachers

By Walt Gardner — October 24, 2014 1 min read

The term moral distress is in the news because of the Ebola scare as it affects doctors and nurses (“Listen to nurses who blow the whistle on shoddy Ebola care,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 16). But I maintain that it also applies to teachers. When teachers know that something is ethically wrong but don’t speak out because of fear of retaliation by their principal, they suffer from the condition.

Although teachers don’t take the equivalent of the Hippocratic oath, they nonetheless are professionally responsible for acting ethically at all times. If it were not for the existence of tenure, teachers might be intimidated in remaining silent about anything they deemed inimical to their students.

Consider Malibu High School in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in California (“Cancer Scare at Malibu High Turns Messy,” LAWeekly, Mar. 20). When three teachers there were diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and some students reported asthma and rashes, parents demanded to know if the cause was environmental. Twenty teachers refused to remain silent about the threat to their students and to themselves, and wrote to the district. Whether the events were purely a coincidence remains to be seen. But I applaud the teachers who acted on their conscience to become advocates for their students.

At Desert Trails Elementary School, charterized under the Parent Trigger Law in California, teachers were advised by the executive director not to tell parents about their right to services for children with special needs. Whether the high teacher-turnover rate at the school is a direct result is hard to know, but teachers who remain cannot help suffering moral distress (“Public School Shakedown,” The Progressive, Oct. 22).

Moral distress is related to compassion fatigue (“When Nurses Catch Compassion Fatigue, Patients Suffer,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 3, 2012). In both cases, witnessing the suffering of others and feeling powerless to do anything lead to sadness and despair. Nurses and teachers are prime candidates because of the nature of their work. Both conditions have been linked to high turnover in their respective professions. I expect to see more attention paid to these two ailments in teaching in the years ahead.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Branding your district matters. This webinar will provide you with practical tips and strategies to elevate your brand from three veteran professionals, each of whom has been directly responsible for building their own district’s brand.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. school districts are using hybrid learning right now with varying degrees of success. Students and teachers are getting restless and frustrated with online learning, making curriculum engagement difficult and disjointed. While
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
America is more divided than ever—and dangerously so. We need not look any further than the recent attack on the U.S. Capitol while Congress was certifying the results of the presidential election. The denial of

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Clinical Director
Garden Prairie, IL, US
Camelot Education

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read