Pitfalls for Teachers


Below are the protections provided by the state of Texas to those who teach in the public schools  A list of 15 legal pitfalls (and words to the wise) is listed following the statute.

 

SUBCHAPTER B. CIVIL IMMUNITY

Sec. 22.051. Immunity From Liability for Professional Employees.

(a) A professional employee of a school district is not personally liable for any act that is incident to or within the scope of the duties of the employee's position of employment and that involves the exercise of judgment or discretion on the part of the employee, except in circumstances in which a professional employee uses excessive force in the discipline of students or negligence resulting in bodily injury to students.

(b) This section does not apply to the operation, use, or maintenance of any motor vehicle.

(c) In this section, "professional employee" includes:

(1) a superintendent, principal, teacher, supervisor, social worker, counselor, nurse, and teacher's aide;

(2) a student in an education preparation program participating in a field experience or internship;

(3) a school bus driver certified in accordance with standards and qualifications adopted by the Department of Public Safety; and

(4) any other person whose employment requires certification and the exercise of discretion.

Added by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 260, Sec. 1, eff. May 30,

1995.


COMMON MISTAKES THAT LEAD TO DUE PROCESS HEARINGS, TEACHER DISMISSALS, AND/OR LAW SUITS AGAINST SCHOOL PERSONNEL

 

1. PROCEDURAL VIOLATIONS --

ROWLEY -- CONGRESS PLACED AS MUCH EMPHASIS UPON COMPLIANCE WITH PROCEDURES AS WITH THE MEASUREMENT OF THE RESULTING IEP.

* NOTICES

* CONSENT

* IEE

* POOR EVALUATIONS

* IMPROPER ARD COMMITTEES

2. DENYING SERVICES BASED ON COST CONSIDERATIONS (THE KISS OF DEATH!)

THERE IS NO PROVISION IN THE LAW THAT LIMITS A SCHOOL DISTRICT'S RESPONSIBILITY TO PROVIDE A FREE APPROPRIATE PUBLIC EDUCATION (FAPE) TO THE AMOUNT OF FUNDS IT RECEIVES -- YOU MUST PROVIDE WHATEVER IS NECESSARY FOR A CHILD TO RECEIVE FAPE (Supreme Court DECISION TO PROVIDE A FULL TIME NURSE).

3. RIGIDITY (THE "NEVER HAVE NONE IT, NEVER WILL DO IT" APPROACH")

"THAT IS AN INTERESTING REQUEST AND WE WERE NOT EXPECTING THAT ITEM TO COME UP AS A REQUEST -- PLEASE GIVE ME A CHANCE TO STUDY AND RESEARCH YOUR REQUEST AND I WILL GET BACK WITH YOU."

4. GIVING IN TO PARENT'S DEMANDS (EVEN WHEN IT IS NOT IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD)

MOST COMMON EXAMPLE IS WHERE THE PARENT REFUSES TO ALLOW TESTING AND/OR SERVICES FROM SPECIAL EDUCATION AND THE STUDENT NEEDS SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES TO HAVE A FAPE.

5. ACTING ON THE BASIS OF PRINCIPLE V. REASON (AKA/FIGHTING LOSING BATTLES)

MOST COMMON EXAMPLE IS REFUSING TO CONSIDER A CHILD FOR SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES BECAUSE THE STUDENT IS "BRIGHT" OR IS PASSING FROM GRADE TO GRADE.

6. TAKING THE LAW INTO YOUR OWN HANDS (AKA, IGNORING THE IEP, THE LAW, AND COMMON SENSE)

USUALLY HAPPENS IN THE AREA OF DISCIPLINE (COLORADO CASE 1999). DID NOT FOLLOW THE IEP.

7. PROCRASTINATING (IT IS TOO EASY TO ALLOW TIME LINES TO PASS AND NEEDED SERVICES TO BE IGNORED)

SCHOOL DISTRICT TOOK 2 AND 1/2 YEARS TO FIND A RESIDENTIAL PLACEMENT WHICH THEY HAD AGREED WAS NECESSARY TO PROVIDE FAPE.

NEED MORE SPECIFICITY?

 

8. BE VERY CAREFUL WITH PHYSICAL TOUCH

THE ONLY SAFE AREA IS THE UPPER ARM, AND SHOULDER BLADE AREA AND THEN ONLY FOR A COUPLE OF SECONDS.

9. DO NOT GO "HANDS ON" WITH A CHILD (PHYSICAL RESTRAINT) UNLESS YOU MUST IN ORDER TO PROTECT YOURSELF, THE CHILD, OR OTHERS.

 

10. DO NOT TAKE ANY ACTION OR USE LANGUAGE OR TELL STORIES (JOKES) THAT IN ANY WAY COULD BE CONSIDERED QUESTIONABLE (ETHNICALLY, SEXUALLY, POLITICALLY, ETC.)

11. A DETENTION OF A STUDENT FOR A SHORT TIME AFTER CLASS HAS ENDED IS RECOGNIZED AS A LEGITIMATE METHODS OF ENFORCING DISCIPLINE, BUT MUST BE ENFORCED IN GOOD FAITH, AND NOT WITH MALICIOUS, WANTON, OR WILLFUL MOTIVES BY THE TEACHER.

 

12. BE FAMILIAR WITH THE "STUDENT CODE OF CONDUCT"

 

13. SCHOOLS MAY NOT ARBITRARILY ALLOW THE EXTRA CURRICULAR PRIVILEGES TO SOME STUDENTS AND NOT TO OTHERS, BUT MAY IMPOSE REASONABLE REQUIREMENTS FOR ALL STUDENTS.

 

14. THE "REASONABLE SUSPICION" STANDARD HAS BEEN UPHELD IN CHALLENGES TO LOCKER, DESK, AND CAR SEARCHES.

 

15. DON'T IGNORE CLAIMS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND/OR ABUSE OF ONE STUDENT BY ANOTHER.

 

16. DOCUMENT,DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT WHEN SOMETHING UNUSUAL TAKES PLACE IN YOUR CLASSROOM


Advice for New Teachers From Mentors:

Compiled from mentor comments by Barry Sweeny

 

THE CRITICAL STUFF:

 

1. ASK A LOT OF QUESTIONS AND SHARE YOUR PROBLEMS.

As mentors we want to help and we need to know the best way to provide that help, so your questions are important to us. We know that you have a lot to learn, especially the first 2-3 years, so don't feel inadequate or embarrassed asking often for suggestions or help. We all are professionals & are always learning. Be willing to take some time from "today" periodically to develop yourself as a professional for the children you will serve "tomorrow".

 

2. EXPECT IT TO TAKE A LOT OF WORK.

You may be expecting to assume the full load of an experienced educator but you will be doing that without the benefit of that experience. There is so much to learn and some of the "lessons" are easier than others, so for the first year or so you'll be working very hard to do your job as well as you want. Just remember that as your experience and skills grow, so will your ability to work efficiently and effectively.  If educating children was simple, it wouldn't be a profession!

 

3. DON'T TRY TO DO IT ALL NOW.

No matter how experienced any of us becomes, we find that the work isNEVER done. It is not possible to do enough for the children about which we all care so much. The most important things are:

 

  • to care about the students and your professional colleagues,

  • to stay involved in your school, and

  • to stay informed and on track with curriculum priorities.

 

In this way the essentials will receive your best effort.

 

4. JOIN THE "SCHOOL TEAM", DON'T GO IT ALONE.

We all discover that the most significant results are achieved when we work as a team. Each of us has strengths and limitations as individuals, but as a team our diversity creates more strengths & fewer limitations on what WE can accomplish. This means that WE can respond better to the differences in children and that their learning will improve because their needs are met. The more open we are to learning from and sharing with others the truer this becomes.

 

5. LISTEN TO YOUR MENTORS AND DEFER TO THEIR JUDGMENT WHEN YOU FIRST TRY THINGS.

Mentors are trained to limit the amount of advice they offer, particularly after the initial orientation period. If your mentor advises you to try something you should definitely consider it. Try it once, then when you have that experience you'll be better able to judge for yourself what is right for you and your classes. Ignoring the mentor's advice often means learning "the hard way", by trial and error.

 

MORE ADVICE:

  1. Don't assume very much. Ask for clarification or check it out.

  2. Don't apologize when you ask questions. You need to know, so asking is what you should do.

  3. Use the resources that we provide you. Read the handouts, articles, and manuals.

  4. Be yourself. We liked you when we hired you!

  5. Be flexible and willing to adapt to situations. Rigidity wins a battle but loses wars and friends.

  6. Keep your sense of humor and enjoy the children and your colleagues.

  7. Celebrate the successes, but realize that we do not always succeed.

  8. Plan some time for yourself. Protect your great attitude.

  9. Listen a lot. Speak up when it's appropriate.

  10. Pacing is vital. Ask others for their outline of the year's activities or curriculum and consider it.

  11. Keep clear notes on each child in your elementary classroom. Keep notes on any secondary child when you are concerned. Documentation will sometimes seem a waste of time when you don't need it, but when you do need it, it will protect you.

 

You may copy and distribute this paper as long as you do so for free and maintain the following credits:

 

� by Barry Sweeny, Best Practice Resources

26 W 413 Grand Ave. Wheaton, IL 60187 (630) 668-2605, E-mail barrys@teachermentors.com

Web site at: http://www.teachermentors.com.


PREPARING FOR PARENT CONFERENCES

by Barry Sweeny

  

Goals for Parent Conferences:

  1. To create a parent-teacher team with a shared agreement about the role of each partner in helping the student to succeed in school and in life.

  2. To provide a two-way communication opportunity that updates each partner on the "team" about the student's learning and behavior characteristics and history.

  3. To establish a relationship that makes it easier for teacher or parents to initiate contact later on.

 

What parents perceive about their child at home may or may not correspond with teacher perceptions. If there are

inconsistencies these can be important clues for teachers as we try to diagnose student problems and to seek ways to

increase student motivation to learn. So...

 

 

YOU MAY WANT TO ASK THE PARENTS:

  1. What are the student's spare time activities? Reading? Music? Socializing? Writing?

  2. What examples the parents see at home of the student using math, art, info on other cultures, or asking about nature.  Regardless of grade level, these clues can help you help the student.

  3. What does the student say about school? The Teacher? Other students? Learning?

  4. What chores or responsibilities does the student have at home?

  5. Who does the student spend time with at home? In the neighborhood?

  6. Are there recent or past events in the student's family which may impact readiness to learn?

  7. What do you find to be the most effective discipline for the student at home?

  8. What are the child's strengths? Weaknesses? How do the parents hope the child can grow?

  9. What rumors have you heard about school?

 

 

YOU MAY WANT TO TELL THE PARENTS:

  1. The ways that the student participates in class and in which kinds of activities.

  2. The degree of self-control the student exhibits and ways all can encourage this development.

  3. How the child is accepted by and interacts with other students and other adults.

  4. The ability of the student to handle grade level expectations, materials and assignments.

  5. The subjects or topics in which the student has shown interest.

  6. The ability of the child to express thoughts orally, in written or aesthetic forms.

  7. The student's emotional "position" at school. Usually happy? Serious and intent? Lonely?

  8. What should the teacher know to be effective in helping the student? What can parents do?

 

You may copy and distribute this paper as long as you do so for free and maintain the following credits:

 

Barry Sweeny, Resources for Staff & Organization Development

 

26 W 413 Grand Ave. Wheaton, IL 60187 (630) 668-2605, E-mail: barrys@teachermentors.com


ASSISTING FIRST YEAR TEACHERS

WITH CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT

 

By Barry Sweeny 

 

The importance of a good start to the school year is well documented, and the role of a solid class management approach is a key to that good start. Beginning the year with a class management plan IN PLACE communicates clear expectations and helps beginning staff to be more consistent in enforcing their behavior standards and that leads to less student misconduct and stronger teacher self-esteem.

 

PLANNING THE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

 

Be sure that proteges know school-wide expectations for behavior, in class, in halls, at lunch, at recess, or on campus.

 

Develop classroom rules consistent with school rules and which administrators will support.

  • rules need to be within student control to accomplish

  • limited in number, clear and specific about observable behaviors

 

Establish routines and procedures to handle daily classroom business such as:

  • use of restrooms (time of day is important here)

  • beginning and ending of class expectations for attendance, noise, seating, dismissal, etc

  • distributing and collecting materials, papers, and equipment

  • setting up and running audio-visual equipment

  • lining up or group movement to assemblies, PE., specials such as music or art

 

Accompanying the rules should be a set of consequences including rewards & punishments

  • rewards can include praise & encouragement, participation choices and recognition.

 

Review with the protege the pros and cons of punishments, such as:

  • overuse decreases effectiveness

  • punishments can actually reinforce some behaviors (ie. ditched class="suspension"?)

  • use punishments that can lead to behavior changes

 

Help plan the layout of the room to reduce traffic flow problems, keep all areas visible to the teacher and the teacher

visible to the students, make displays, instructions, & clocks visible to all work areas. Plan an area near the teacher

for students who need closer supervision, for materials or samples displays, and for collecting papers and projects.

 

IMPLEMENTING THE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

 

Rules need to be written, posted, and enforceable by the teacher.

 

Teach the students the rules and routines. Explain your expectations.

 

Teachers who routinely refer misbehavior to "the office" can also create the impression that the teacher can't handle

problems. Try to solve your own problems but ask for specialists or principal help.

 

Consistency in enforcement is critical. Uneven application (random?) decreases impact & is unfair.

 

New staff often want kids to "like them" but that will often conflict with getting kids to learn.

 

You may copy and distribute this paper as long as you do so for free and maintain the following credits:

 

Barry Sweeny, Resources for Staff & Organization Development

 

26 W 413 Grand Ave. Wheaton, IL 60187 (630) 668-2605, E-mail barrys@teachermentors.com