Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership


Dianne Hoff

Second Committee Member

Janet Fairman

Third Committee Member

George Marnik

Additional Committee Members

Connie Perry

Anne Pooler


Unwritten codes may be problematic for a number of reasons. Unwritten codes may be negative and cause discord for educators. Pressure from peers regarding negative unwritten codes may influence teachers to make poor moral choices. Teachers may face personal turmoil when choosing their allegiance to either the unwritten code, their own personal code, or the professional code. Teachers may make decisions which do not necessarily model good moral choices for their students or fellow teachers.

The purpose of this study was to examine unwritten codes and the extent to which these codes may impact teachers. I explored what the unwritten codes are, the conflict between unwritten codes and professional codes or teachers’ personal codes, and how these unwritten codes may or may affect teachers’ decisions. I utilized a mixed methods study including surveys and interviews with nine Maine K-12 teachers.

Comparative methods were utilized to surface patterns and emerging themes. There is powerful evidence that unwritten codes affect the daily lives of teachers. An analysis revealed five themes. First, unwritten codes are pervasive in schools. Teachers expressed that they learned more by talk in the teachers' room than through any formal mechanism or policy book. Second, the codes were overwhelmingly negative - "Don't do extra work without additional pay," "Don't trust administrators," and most importantly, "Never undercut a fellow teacher." Third, the unwritten code has a very powerful influence. This influence has an impact on nearly all teachers, but especially young teachers. Fourth, when teachers break the unwritten code it usually is because a child’s welfare is at stake and there is a clash with their personal code. Fifth, most of the participants distanced themselves from listening to, or disseminating the unwritten codes. They pointed to other teachers and even administrators as the ones who perpetuate the unwritten codes in the building.

Unwritten codes add a whole new level of complexity to the dilemmas teachers face. The findings and conclusions of this study suggest implications for teacher preparation programs, administrative preparation programs, school districts, teacher associations, and for aspiring teachers, themselves.