Suffering in silence: Teachers with HIV/AIDS and their moral educational communities

Catherine Zappulla, Fordham University


This is a multicase exploratory, narrative study of the impact of HIV/AIDS on the personal and professional lives of HIV-positive teachers, their educational workplace experiences, and the response of the institutional members and leaders to their positive HIV status. With a perspective on schools as moral communities, the stories are told of three HIV-infected teachers, their experiences in moving through the educational system, and the ethical implications of their membership in the school community. This study also examines the kinds of private and public ethical conflicts that arose as a result of HIV-infected teachers in the workplace, and how the leaders' decisions and choices in each case impacted the direction in which the moral conflict was resolved. It particularly examines the personal moral character of the school leaders, and how the values and ideals they personally embody significantly influence the formation of institutional values and ideals, as well as the outcome of each teacher's story. This qualitative, naturalistic inquiry utilizes Seidman's and McCracken's in-depth phenomenological first-person profile report to report the interview findings. Through purposeful snowball sampling, three New York City HIV-infected school teachers were selected, representing a diversity of backgrounds and characteristics to facilitate the expansion of theory. Through in-depth content analysis of the data, coding categories were identified and then examined for thematic connections among the respondents. Themes emerged related to the teachers' emotional and psychological struggles with HIV/AIDS, including images of fear, loneliness, isolation, denial, victimization, loss of control, loss of identity, shame, judgment, prejudice, suffering, and transformation. The study examined their private ethical struggles as they vacillated between their desire for truthfulness and openness versus the fears that forced them to keep secrets and tell lies in order to hide their HIV status. Once their secret was revealed, the public and private spheres collided and the rights of teachers were weighed against the rights of the community members. Among the community ethical conflicts examined by this study were: (a) the public's right to know versus the teacher's right to privacy, (b) the impact of HIV on job performance, (c) the children's right to an adequate education, (d) health risks related to HIV, (e) shielding children from illness and death, and (f) the teachers' right to reasonable accommodations to perform their duties. This study also examined the personal ethical characters of the school leaders, the kind of collective community climate they fostered in each of their schools, and the influence they exerted on the other community members. In two of the cases, exclusionary stances are adopted and the teachers are denied integrated membership in their school communities. In the third case, the community adopts an inclusive stance with the teacher and empathy and compassion are fostered and preserved as primary community values.

Subject Area

School administration|Educational sociology

Recommended Citation

Zappulla, Catherine, "Suffering in silence: Teachers with HIV/AIDS and their moral educational communities" (1995). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9543471.