September 23, 2008

Making Murky Moral Judgments

OUR mothers always told us that bad news comes in threes. Those in charge of our education system will no doubt be hoping that is the case and there will be no more stories to undermine the credibility of a good Kiwi education.

It appears that not only are teachers being battered by unruly students in record numbers and battling falling rolls in places like Waitara, but some teachers are taking sex education a little too far and supplementing their income with work as prostitutes.

The revelation that an Auckland primary school teacher, a mother with two children, is working nights -- and not on marking -- brought further news from the Prostitutes Collective that she is not alone and is, in fact, one of several New Zealand teachers in the sex industry to bolster their income.

It would be easy and understandable to view this as one more example of our society's gradual slide in standards and decency, a contention possibly bolstered by the other stories, which point to the worsening behaviour of our students and the struggle for relevance of some schools.

But it would be a bigger tragedy if a good teacher was lost because of a moral crusade over her extra- curricular activities.

Remember, she is doing nothing illegal -- that bar was removed with the passing of the Prostitution Reform Act in 2003. That just leaves the murky morality to work through. And that's where the fun begins -- if you sack a teacher because he or she moonlights as a sex worker, do you sack the teacher who, for whatever reason, has paid for the pleasure?

The woman involved has told the principal that what she does outside the school is none of the school's business and is not affecting her ability to teach.

Admittedly, it is not quite that simple. Schools are run by boards of trustees, parents with various backgrounds and sensibilities, and teachers know that these boards have a certain amount of influence over the flavour and ethic of a school.

Also, teachers know that their role doesn't necessarily stop at the school gate and that they are under more pressure than other professions to moderate and carefully calibrate their public persona and behaviour.

But that should not be used to stop a person who is lawfully, and in this case discretely, going about their business, and doing it in a way that does not affect their ability to fulfil their primary role.

Yes, the confidence of some parents may be shaken by such revelations, but they should be more concerned about the value of the education their child is receiving and not so worried about the secondary employment of the person administering that quality education.

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