As with many jobs, teaching comes with a certain moral expectation. Due to their influence over children, teachers are expected to be a positive moral example for their students. Naturally, what is meant as positive has changed and morphed overtimes. This post will try to trace how the moral expectations of teaching have changed over time in the United States.
Originally, teaching was considered temporary work for young men as they made plans to move on to better things. This led to a great deal of turnover. Horace Mann, a leading political figure of the United States at the time wanted to change this. He wanted to move away from the stern male teacher to the gentle female teacher. For the most part, Mann was successful as by the end of the 19th century about 70% of all K-12 teachers were women which is a number that is about the same today.
The switch to a primarily female teaching corp had its advantages and disadvantages. Traditionally, women were more nurturing than men were which may be a benefit for young children. Despite this, it may be possible that at least some children would benefit from the strong hand of male disciplined as portrayed stereotypically during this time period. However, women teachers could be just as itinerant as male teachers as we shall see.
Moral Demands Teaching 19th-Early 20th Century
There were many restrictions on a teacher’s behavior that people would find completely unacceptable today. For example, teachers were expected to go to church every Sunday. Not only is this a church-state violation but it is also compulsory worship in a Christian setting. This would exclude most other religions from teaching in US public schools at this time.
There were also rules against smoking, drinking, dancing, playing cards, and even loitering at ice cream parlors. Even today, few teachers would complain about restrictions for smoking and drinking on-campus but would chafe at such a restriction after hours on personal time. No dancing and play cards would be indefensible. However, during this time, dancing was associated with sexual licentiousness and playing cards was linked with gambling which were both unacceptable behaviors in Christian America. These taboos have been lost over time. Lastly, loitering at ice cream parlors is no longer a concern due to changing times but during the time of these restrictions hanging out anywhere was considered unproductive to society especially for a teacher.
There were also restrictions in terms of dating. Male teachers needed to be careful about how often they were courting women. This was probably meant to make sure that the male teacher was not a womanizer. He could court but not too often or too much. Of course, we are using the word court instead of date because technically there was no dating for teachers at least officially. The purpose of courting was for the consideration of marriage and not premarital sex.
For a female teacher, marriage meant being dismissed from her teaching job. At this time, it was not considered acceptable for a woman to work outside the home once married especially in the teaching. Whether this was fair or not is opened to debate. However, there were not all the amenities that we have today available such as childcare, washer machines, microwaves, etc. that allow a woman to have a career while supporting a home. If the wife did not stay home the home would literally have collapsed.
As values changed so did the standards for morality for teachers. Over time women were allowed to return to teaching after pregnancy with the caveat that their job was still available. Eventually, in the US, maternity leave was no longer mandatory by the 1970s. Pregnancy discrimination was also banned.
As mentioned previously, there is a stronger separation between how teachers act on an off-campus. Behaviors that used to be unacceptable such as smoking and drinking are only problems if they happen on campus during school hours. Teachers are not the only ones held to such a standard. Even police officers are expected to abstain from certain behaviors when on duty.
Teaching is a rewarding profession that at times can place higher standards in terms of moral behavior. Being around impressionable youth requires teachers to uphold strong moral values because of their influence. Over time, however, the behaviors that are considered moral and acceptable has changed along with the moral expectations of teachers.