A Moral Dilemma in My Teaching Career


Would you put your own job in jeopardy to highlight the needs of your students?


Read the question again.

Even if it meant losing your own job for standing up for what you believe in?

Are you finding yourself torn?

This insightful article highlights the difficult moral dilemma that all of us teachers could find ourselves in.  

The Moral question is not so easily answered as you will learn below.

Morality in English teaching

In a year like no other, 2020 has demonstrated the tolerance and indeed, the ineptitude of our moral compass.  For many of us, we have sought a method of teaching that was romanticised by films in the 1980’s, where we take on a cyborg and hybrid model of omnipresence in the virtual world.

Professionally my moral compass has been off course. I am torn between upholding the confines of my job description and a situation that best serves the student’s immediate needs. I suspect many readers may find themselves in similar positions.

This is something that I am grappling with, and would certainly value your input in the comments section:

The Situation: 

For obvious reasons, I can only speak of geographical locations in explaining this problem. I am employed by an Australian country who farm out our skills to instruct students in bridging courses. In this scenario, to teach a class of Chinese third year university students, who could be categorised as an IELTS equivalent between 5 to 6.5. They are situated in their classroom, which a Chinese facilitator, whilst I am marooned in my home office Australia. 

The students are studying a major degree in their native language; whilst we teachers are hired to teach them in academic English that will eventually assist them when travelling the world with their certificate of English, and their university degree combined. 

This particular class is an extension of their academic course. For reasons beyond their control, they have not been taught by a foreign teacher for some time, or most terrifyingly, at all.  In fact, I suspect most of them are repeating a modified version of their original course, just to make sure that they have been exposed to a native English speaker. 

Their course outline demonstrates four overall assessments that allow them to showcase their skills across the four areas of study – reading, writing, speaking and listening. 

The listening assessment is the final instalment for the students.  Using the Cornell Note-Taking method, students will be asked to create their notes, provide a summary, as well as to complete multiple choice and short answer questions.

The Problem:

We have four weeks to prepare for this assessment, as their semester draws near to an end. I explained the Note-taking method to them and I played the prepared examples outlined by my Australian superiors. When eliciting the ideas based on what the students had heard, they sat stunned, incapable of speech. They asked to listen again. And again. And again. To no avail, the students were not able to recount any information whatsoever about what they had just heard.

In a state of shock at these third-year students, I asked them what had just happened. The Chinese facilitator began to ask questions and frantically write ideas down. It was plainly evident that these students had not been taught the basic skills of listening.

They had no idea on how to listen to key words; no concept of listening for gist or detail. Many words were alien to them, never having heard them spoken by a native speaker. They could not comprehend the intonation, nor the speed of a native example. As a result, they could not reproduce any of the information in a certain detail.

What happened next?

Having received this information and with only three weeks until the end of semester, our class ended with me having knowledge of this shocking information. Many more questions that still needed answering: Can an assessment be completed? Should I avoid it at all costs? Is anyone to blame? What is our next class going to look like?

These questions and many more are still in my head, I feel unable to resolve any of them. 

My moral dilemma

I guess I am guided by this vast yawning chasm of what is professionally right or socially wrong.

My professionalism leans towards ensuring my own name does not get smeared through the digital mud of the educative hallways. My integrity wants to make sure that when my name is typed as their foreign teacher, that I have actually done my job.

My contract stipulates that there are assessments to complete and any alteration to any of them will no doubt result in a trans-continental swift of discipline. Yet, my instinct suggests that the fundamentals of the skills are very important and should be instructed in a considerate manner and to an adequate standard.

My bank account still needs to enjoy a stable income for when I am allowed to go back to a formal classroom environment. And somehow, that challenging concept of life’s ambition to inspire, educate and inform, would mean breaking the all the rules

Is it better to follow the superior’s collective guidance; or to trust my own moral compass to impart ideas for the benefit of the students? 

The Outcome:

At the time of writing this article, the dilemma is still not resolved. 

Colloquially, the dilemma probably will be solved in a matter of hours. Yet, on a philosophical level – I doubt that it ever will. 

I posed my moral dilemma question to many different teachers. From those who specialise in English language teaching, those with formal postgraduate training at university level, to those who have a speciality in a different field and to those who are teachers without any training at all.

The interesting factor is that my sample yielded an even split.  Teachers were divided between meeting their job description and going out on a limb to highlight the needs of their students.  

I genuinely believe this question of moral dilemma is a discussion worth having – whether it is internally with yourself or with other trusted like-minded individuals – because in more than one way, we owe it to our students to do so.