My personal code of ethics began long before my professional life but has directly influenced how I govern myself in both areas. In life and in education, equality means that everyone gets the same thing, whereas equity means that everyone gets what they need to be successful. It is important to understand which is appropriate and when. As a long-time educator and life-long learner, my code of ethics is centered upon building relationships and conducting my personal and professional actions and interactions with equity in mind.
I come from a long line of educators. My maternal grandmother taught kindergarten for 35 years in a small room that grandfather built for her after she finished the teacher education program at Mississippi’s Women’s Missionary Union. Many local children attended Miss Jessie’s School Room, since public schools were not required to provide kindergarten at the time. My grandmother charged an affordable weekly amount and was praised for teaching dozens of children in Union, Mississippi. At 8:00 each weekday morning, she walked out her back door and pulled the string that rang the school bell, and the children filed in. I remember attending Miss Jessie’s School Room when we were visiting, and I was always excited to be there.
When I was about 8, I overheard my grandmother talking with a parent who had brought a huge sack of vegetables and fresh eggs instead of the weekly tuition. My grandmother thanked her profusely and bragged about how much more my grandfather would enjoy his meals that week. When the mom left, I was curious. I asked my grandmother how a student could come to Miss Jessie’s if his parents couldn’t pay. Her simple reply caught my attention and has stayed with me all these years: “Sweetie, that little boy needs a good education, and your grandfather and I need fresh vegetables.” Friends, that’s equity. My grandmother built relationships with families and was a humble but sturdy pillar in her community.
Miss Jessie’s School Room
My mother and father met when my mom was a young student teacher at the rural Mississippi high school where my dad and his cousin Don taught and coached. As the story goes, my dad and Don watched my mom leave school on her first day as a student teacher, and he turned to his cousin and said, “There goes my future Mrs.” Four months later, they were engaged and planning a wedding. My dad taught history and driver’s education, and was a counselor, assistant principal, bus driver, and football coach at different times in his career. My mom taught Spanish and English and has retired in both Alabama and Florida. Together, they made a good life for my little brother and me, working hard to make sure we had everything we needed and then some.
For a period during our childhood, I was jealous of my brother over every little thing. My parents were fantastic at parenting, but they were also outstanding teachers. I remember when my brother was learning to read and write, and my parents bought him a Speak & Spell. I got nothing that day. The Speak & Spell was amazing to me. Before any type of technology worth talking about was available to children, it was far ahead of its time in my mind...and I wanted it. I cried and whined and caused all manner of disruption over what I saw as a toy. Patiently, my teacher-mother said to me, “Suellen, I know it’s hard to see your brother get something when you didn’t. The Speak & Spell will help him become an outstanding reader like you.” Again, that’s equity. This made me feel better, and from time to time, my brother let me play with the Speak & Spell. We still have that old Texas Instruments marvel, and it still works.
My brother's actual Speak & Spell.
These stories are big threads in the fabric of my life, and with them and many others, I have sewn my personal code of ethics. My personal code of ethics falls in line perfectly with my goal of giving my all to ensure that my students, my children, and others influenced by me have what they need to be successful. I also want to help them understand that this means different things for different people at different times, in the classroom and in life. My beliefs regarding the importance of building relationships and understanding and applying equality versus equity correlate well with the standard principles that guide my personal and professional choices.
I am not a perfect wife, mother, daughter, sister, administrator, librarian, leader, or teacher. I have found, however, that by building relationships and striving for equity in my every action, interaction, and reaction, I can ensure that I maintain feelings of well-being, service to my family, school, and community, and fortitude during challenging times.
By Suellen W. Epps
Dr. Epps is the Assistant Principal at Mt. Carmel Elementary School in Huntsville, Alabama. She is a special education administrator who is passionate about new teacher support and retention.
Figure 1. Wagle, K. (2017). Equity Vs Equality: 20 differences between Equity and Equality. Retrieved 12 June 2020.