In this competition, the Educators Rising school program must debate an ethical education-related dilemma. This competition requires students to think deeply about an ethical issue, employ critical-thinking skills, and use persuasive communication techniques to collaboratively debate an ethical dilemma.

To participate, each member of the school program must first thoroughly consider the ethical issue and begin to form an individual position on the topic. Then the students must debate the topic together,listening carefully to each other’s opinions. Through the discussion, the students must come to a consensus on the topic and then prepare a 10-minute live presentation stating their team’s view.

Competition Guidelines

  1. Get together and present the ethical dilemma narrative included on this page and in the detailed competition material at the link on the bottom of the page.
  2. Spend adequate time discussing the dilemma. This deliberation may take several meetings. As a group, answer the ethical dilemma questions listed with the ethical dilemma narrative included on this page and in the detailed competition material at the link on the bottom of the page.
  3. When the discussions have concluded, and a consensus has been reached, prepare a 10-minute live presentation stating the team’s view on the dilemma.
  4. No fewer than two and no more than four student representatives from competing school programs will participate in a15-minute interactive session with a panel of judges at the National Conference. In the 15-minute interactive session, the student representatives will deliver their live, 10-minute presentation to a panel of judges. The presentation should be a professional, clear, and decisive response to the dilemma. How the decision was reached and what factors were considered should be included in the presentation. Use of AV materials (ex. an original PowerPoint or Prezi presentation, short video, etc.) is permitted but entirely optional for the 10-minute presentation. For the balance of the 15-minute interactive session, the judges will ask the students questions about their deliberation process, the factors that were considered when making a decision, how they reached consensus, and other questions relevant to the deliberation process.
  5. One judge will also serve as time-keeper during the presentations. Team members will receive a visual, non-verbal indication that there is one-minute remaining when they reach the nine-minute mark of their presentations.

Ethical Dilemma Scenario

At age 22, Bridget Young is very proud to begin her teaching career at Brown High School. She will be teaching 9th grade English. Bridget has always wanted to be a teacher for as long as she could remember. At age 11, she used to sit her two younger siblings down with her and create a classroom with her toys, and she would play the teacher. 

After completing her student teaching in an affluent suburban high school, Ms. Young felt compelled to begin her professional teaching career in an underserved school that she felt really needed enthusiastic, innovative, and caring educators. Ms. Young was determined to make a difference and help craft a new narrative for students and families living in poverty. 

During the second week of school, Ms. Young was asked to attend an IEP meeting for one of her students. In attendance was the parent, special education teacher, special education coordinator, counselor, and assistant principal. At the meeting, the parent informed the school team that she had been extremely disappointed with the level of services provided to her child in middle school and was hoping for a better experience at the high school. Ms. Young noticed throughout the meeting that the school team would point out several past incidences of the student’s misbehavior as far back as elementary school without addressing the parent’s concerns regarding the services stipulated in the IEP and the schools response. After the meeting, the counselor and special education coordinator pulled Ms. Young aside and told her that they have heard horror stories regarding this student’s past behavior from elementary and middle school teachers and that student is incorrigible. Ms. Young being the optimist that she is said, “well hopefully we can help him change.” At that moment, her two colleagues looked at each other and chuckled, “Oh, we forgot you’re a new teacher, don’t worry you’ll learn very quickly what we mean,” said Betty, the special education coordinator. 

Later that day, Ms. Young reflected on the meeting and her side conversation with the counselor and special education coordinator. On one hand, she understands making sure that students and parents are accountable for their behavior, but this parent was trying to take a proactive approach to her child’s high school experience to increase the likelihood of his success. Bridget worries that the very people that are supposed to ensure the student’s success have already labeled and given up on him. 

So, while Bridget wants to develop a great working relationship with colleagues, she believes that students come first and that her colleagues outlook on this student does not align with her values on children and their abilities to evolve daily. She expects all of her students to have a great year in her English class. And she hopes to make that possible through great lessons, building relationships, and meeting each student where they are. What steps should she take to ensure this? Additionally, she believes that it is ethically wrong to disparage students. What should she do? What would you do? 

Recommended Reading

The treatment of special needs students — particularly the treatment of students with behavioral disorders — are constantly under scrutiny. For years, teachers, parents, counselors and other support staff have collaboratively developed and monitored individualized programs to address the needs of students with behavioral disorders and ensure they are prepared for further education, employment independent living. However, are these individualized programs implemented fairly and accurately? What happens when the teacher loses hope for a special needs student? Are students with a history of behavioral concerns treated differently from their peers? Read “Instructing Students With High-Incidence Disabilities in the General Education Classroom” by Sharon Vaughn, Jeanne Shay Schumm and James W. Forgan

( and “A guide to the Individualized Education Program” ( released by the United States Department of Education.

Questions to Consider During Your Debate of the Dilemma

Discuss the idea of responsibility for the academic achievement and support for students with special needs. Who is responsible? The student? Teachers? Parents? The assistant principal? The special education coordinator? Other people inside and outside the school building? Do you think Ms. Young bears responsibility for this student? 

What can, or should, school staff do to respond to a parent’s concern about the treatment of their child? Should this response differ for special needs students with a documented history of behavioral incidents? 

Do you know of a real-life situation similar to what Ms. Young is dealing with? What happened? How do you feel about how the situation was handled by the school? Do you feel it was an appropriate and fair way to manage the situation? 

Do you think this situation was avoidable? What steps should have been taken by each of the parties involved (i.e. Ms. Young, parent, student, assistant principal, special education coordinator, etc.)?

Find out more details below:

Ethical Dilemma