Ethical Issues in the Teaching and Learning of Health Topics in Schools: The Conceptions of Teacher Trainees

Jul. 01, 2013

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 34 (2013), p. 66-76.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this paper was to examine the aspects that health education teacher trainees saw as ethically-related within the teaching and learning of health education.

The study took in place in the University of Jyväskylä, Finland.
The sample consisted of university students of physical education who were studying health education as their second teaching subject. The data consisted of teacher trainees’ essays, written during the spring of 2011.


The findings showed that ethics was related to three themes: subject matter, ethical teacher and learning spaces.

The first theme is Health as an ethical subject
Health education was experienced by the teacher trainees as “an ethical subject.”
The subject was seen as truly focusing on pupils’ daily issues and experiences, and thus the knowledge conveyed/received was seen as directly personal and value-laden.
Second, the teacher as an ethical professional
The trainees saw the theme “teacher as an ethical professional" as related to pupils’ personalities and individual needs.
Some trainees highlighted the notion that teachers should accept pupils’ various values, without pondering the question of whether all values should be accepted, no matter what their possibly harmful consequences for others might be.
In this connection, the authors would suggest that teacher training should equip teacher trainees with the skills to consider in depth and to attempt to understand the values and viewpoints pupils bring to the classroom.
The third theme is spaces for learning.
The subject was also seen as including content matters that embody generally accepted guidelines and prescriptions on how to live in a healthy way.
However, the teacher trainees did not feel comfortable with the various guidelines and prescriptions. Instead, they tended to the view that it is ethical per se to create and offer learning situations, or “spaces for learning”, where clarification of values, critical thinking, and personal meaning-making will emerge.

The authors conclude that the study gives some insights into how teacher trainees reflect on and express ethical aspects related to their future work.
Bound up with these considerations is the fact that trainees’ conceptions and use of language - including the conceptions and language of ethics e form an essential part of the knowledge that teacher trainers need in their work (i.e. pedagogical content knowledge).
Such pedagogical content knowledge is also related to these findings on what the teacher trainees did not ponder - aspects that have been acknowledged elsewhere as ethical in teaching, or that are crucial from the perspective of teaching and learning health issues in schools.

Hence, the authors would suggest that health education teacher training should pay more attention to supporting trainees so that they can become aware of and critically evaluate the various moral discourses around health issues.
Furthermore, teacher trainees should become aware of how their perspectives may influence their teaching practices, since the teacher’s ways of seeing something may very well have an association with the way she or he will organize classroom practices.
Finally, health education teacher training should promote discussion on difference in general and seek to develop sensitivity to differences in pupils’ backgrounds.
This could enable teacher trainees truly to take into account pupils’ varying backgrounds and individual needs.
In this context the teacher trainees should gain experiences in promoting dialog in the classroom in order to allow the emergence of a pedagogy of difference.

Updated: Mar. 16, 2015