The Pennsylvania Department of Education (via Form 338C) requires certification programs, before recommending a student for certification, to "[confirm] that the candidate is known and regarded by the preparing institution as a person of good moral character [who] possesses [the] personal qualities and professional knowledge and skill which warrant issuance of the requested certificate."Though the Education Department is not interested in placing students under surveillance of any kind or otherwise auditing the personal activities of students, it should be well understood that students who seek certification are held to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct. Like it or not, teaching is a public activity; this means that teachers are expected to maintain a high level of decorum both inside the classroom and outside of it.
At the same time, defining "good moral character" can be as difficult as defining the difference between right and wrong; some things that are considered "wrong" by some are considered perfectly appropriate by others. At Gettysburg College we define Good Moral Character for teacher candidates as compliance with all requirements of the Student Self-Report of Good Moral Character.
In short, we ask you to certify that you have not done anything that would reflect poorly on Gettysburg College, the Education Department, the schools you visit, or yourself. Our focus is on helping you protect yourself and, more importantly, it is on ensuring that the students you come into contact with will have an appropriate role model in the time they spend with you. One shorthand way to decide whether or not something you have done meets the standards for moral character expected of teachers is to ask yourself how your own parents would feel if they discovered that you had done it-then ask yourself how you would feel if you were the parent of a student whose teacher had engaged in that kind of behavior. If these tests don't clarify things for you, speak to a trusted member of the Education Department. All of us have taught in K-12 schools and many of us have children of our own. We'll be happy to share our thoughts with you.
The Gettysburg College Teacher Education Committee is the governance body charged with administering the policies associated with the Good Moral Character declaration. Students should be aware that they may be prohibited from obtaining Pennsylvania teacher certification and/or teaching in Pennsylvania public schools if they have been convicted of certain crimes or have misled or misinformed members of the Gettysburg College community with regard to the expectations of this policy. Students should also understand that there is an element of subjectivity involved in any determination of what constitutes appropriate professional behavior; you are encouraged to exercise your judgment cautiously as you decide how to balance your dual roles as college student and pre-service teacher. In a very real sense, teacher candidates-fairly or not-are held to a double standard, a lasting legacy of the paternalistic view of teachers historically held in the U.S.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education thoroughly reviews records of all misdemeanors or felonies that appear in a student's criminal history clearance reports and certification applications may be approved or denied following this review regardless of whether or not a candidate for certification has been recommended by his or her certification program. An appeals process may be initiated in the case of an application denial. Each school district may exercise its discretion to deny employment to an individual due to a criminal history including a felony, misdemeanor, or summary offense; in other words, an applicant could be approved for certification by the Department of Education but denied employment by a school district, at the district's discretion, for violating PDE's Good Moral Character policy.
Eligibility for entrance to and continued enrollment in the Teacher Education Program, or in any course with a field component, may be revoked immediately for a violation of the Good Moral Character policy, and students who violate the policy while currently enrolled in a Teacher Education program course with a field component may immediately be withdrawn from the course. A grade of WP or WF will be given if the student withdraws after the semester's final date for withdrawal. A student who has been found to have violated the policy may enroll in a subsequent course with a field component only with the approval of the Teacher Education Committee.
Students found guilty of any of the Infractions listed below will be reported to the Education Department by the Registrar or by the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities. A subcommittee of the Teacher Education Committee will review reported incidents and determine a course of action for the student involved.
Academic infractions, including any violation of the Academic Integrity Policy published in the current edition of the Gettysburg College Student Handbook. Violations of the Academic Integrity Policy include, but may not be limited to, the following offenses: plagiarism, cheating, fabrication, misrepresentation of academic records, facilitating academic dishonesty, and computer offenses.
Community infractions, including a finding of responsibility as determined by the Gettysburg College disciplinary process or an arrest by an off-campus police agency for any of the following offenses:
1. Underage drinking
2. Racial or sexual discrimination, or other discrimination deemed inappropriate
4. Personal dishonesty, including stealing and/or theft of services
5. Possession and/or use of illegal drugs
6. Campus possession of college-banned weapons
7. Willful destruction of property
8. Initiating bomb scares and/or false fire alarms
9. Other incidents as identified by the Dean of Students.
A student who fails to satisfy the requirements of this policy will not be approved for admission to or retention in a teacher certification program and will not be recommended for certification to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The Teacher Education Committee is responsible for determining compliance with this policy, and may consider the particular circumstances of student violations, including a student's prompt self-report of the violation and any efforts made by the student to remediate the concerns raised by his or her behavior.
Any student deemed by the Teacher Education Committee to have failed to satisfy the requirements of the Good Moral Character policy may appeal within ten days of the Teacher Education Committee's decision to the Provost; the Provost shall then render a final written determination within ten days of receiving the appeal.
For a thoughtful take on the rights and responsibilities of teachers with regard to what constitutes appropriate speech and behavior, consider reading the op-ed piece below, which was published in the New York Times by Prof. Jonathan Zimmerman of New York University.
When Teachers Talk Out of School (PDF) by Jonathan Zimmerman, published in the New York Times, June 6, 2011.