George Lucas Educational Foundation
Education Trends

When Things Go Wrong: Your Rights as a Teacher

October 10, 2014

Schools are places of learning, but they're also workplaces. You might teach in a great district. Your colleagues are wonderful and the administration  loves you. However, you never know when a situation might arise, so it’s good to know your rights as a teacher and have a plan of action just in case.  

I know there are many kinds of schools out there, and the advice in this post may not be relevant for everyone, but here are some tips to help navigate a possible sticky situation.

Representation

If you are called into a meeting with administration, be sure to ask about the nature of the meeting. If you suspect it may be disciplinary in nature, please bring someone with you. This could be your area representative or a fellow teacher. This person is an extra set of eyes and ears during the meeting. You may be emotional and not thinking clearly, so you want someone who will look out for you and your interests.

Pay Attention to Words

The word insubordinate is a “danger-danger” word when written by an administrator in a disciplinary report. This word denotes that you did not take the advice of administration, and it can be a reason to terminate employment.  If this word were used in a written response to something in your classroom or something you did, it would be in your best interest to contact your local Uni-serve representative for advice. 

In the meantime, you should be sure to follow the request of administration and then a grievance can be written after. Try not to argue or flat out refuse to comply with administration. This type of incident can involve parents who are not pleased with what is going on in your classroom. Be sure to check ALL IEPs and 504s for specific information. Please ask for advice when in doubt.

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Extra Duties

Teachers are already so busy. If you are asked to take on extra duties or responsibilities and you are uncomfortable doing so, try to ask for a day to think it over so you can contact your local union or AR for advice. This can happen with teachers who are non-tenure and feel obligated to please administration. Please understand that non-tenure employees are limited in protection from the union. Not all administrators are like this, but there are some that may take advantage!

Legal Rights as a Tenure Teacher

A school must show cause in order to dismiss a teacher who has tenure status. Some state statutes provide a list of circumstances where a school may dismiss a teacher. These circumstances are similar to those in which a state agency may revoke a teacher's certification. Some causes for dismissal include the following:

  • Immoral conduct
  • Incompetence
  • Neglect of duty
  • Substantial noncompliance with school laws
  • Conviction of a crime
  • Insubordination
  • Fraud or misrepresentation

Colleague Conflicts

Disputes between colleagues can happen. This may also require you to contact the AR or another union representative to be present when the issue is addressed with administration. Be sure that you are informed of the nature of the meeting BEFORE you meet with administration. This can be tricky since colleagues are usually emotional about what is going on and typically the AR is also a colleague. Please keep in mind the AR is ONLY there to take notes and be an extra set of eyes and ears for both parties. The AR is not speaking or making any decisions about the issue. Be sure to ask for a copy of the notes taken at the meeting by the AR for your records.

Parents

Some parents can be challenging to work with. If a parent questions you about instruction, please be sure to have a written record of your contact, your plan, and any parental responses. Be sure to keep detailed records, including e-mails, notes, etc…If at all possible, try to keep your responses in written form.  You may want to have another person present for ALL meetings.  This could be the guidance counselor, another teacher, administration, etc…Again, be sure that you have referred to any IEPs or 504s within your classroom and be aware of all accommodations/modifications necessary.

The suggestions may not be necessary, but they're helpful when things have the potential to go wrong.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.

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  • Professional Development
  • Teacher Development