Home Author Sue Culverhouse A Teacher’s Bill of Rights

Sue Culverhouse

Over the past 10 years, politicians have become interested in reconfiguring the public schools. Beginning with No Child Left Behind, a business model began to be applied to teaching children. Statistics ruled. More and more testing began to take place each and every session of public schools.

Children, who are not objects on a conveyor belt, began to be viewed as whether or not they could be squared off into a mold where each and every one would reach certain standards of learning.

While these trials at teaching were well-meant by those who established them, results were catastrophic.

The only measure was how many were failing and how terrible the teachers in those schools must be. Teachers became scapegoats for society’s woes. No real comprehension of the nature of children was the basis for evaluating teaching and results. Children are different and come into the world with multiple abilities and talents.

Schools became testing centers with constant measurements valuing learning as a number on a standardized test.

Teachers continuously tried to impress the general public and politicians in particular that their efforts were not the only factor in childhood academic accomplishment. On the contrary, in Tennessee, a new evaluation system requiring huge amounts of paperwork and time away from teaching that makes a difference was established.

Teachers have had enough. They are fed up. Great teachers and administrators are resigning and/or retiring. Something had to be done to save the profession.

Following is the initial effort in that direction:

A Teachers Bill of Rights

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for teachers to assert their needs in face of oppressive treatment by governmental agencies, (although possibly well-meaning,) who have created intolerable conditions for those giving their lives in the service of children, their parents and guardians, the following Bill of Rights sets forth a fair and just system for the workplace of teachers in public schools:

Article I

Considering the number of years of education and continuous updating of their knowledge that teachers undergo, it is unconditionally necessary that teachers be given the respect they have earned and deserved.

Teachers must not be viewed as those who are responsible for all the ills of society but as those who are trying to cope with problems not of their own creation but within a reasonable parameter of their making a positive difference to afford learning for the next generation.

Consequently, no teacher should be the victim of verbal, written or electronically-generated abuse by any parent, administrator, media representative, politician or other entity.

All teachers should be allowed the freedom of speech, religion, and ability to express one’s opinions through the media as is guaranteed by the United States Bill of Rights.

Furthermore, all teachers shall be granted the right of free assembly and the ability to express their indignation at unfair practices foisted upon them by oppressive procedures in the workplace without fear of retribution; this includes the use of collective bargaining along with wholesale strikes and walkouts when teaching conditions become intolerable.

These rights are guaranteed to every citizen of the United States and are especially appropriate for those who make it possible for every child to learn and become educated to the point that they can accept employment in a free society.

Article II

Every teacher must be allowed to work in a safe environment, free from fear that a student or parent or other person may enter with the intent of causing mental or bodily harm. If this requires electronic devices on the doors of every school in this country, so let it be.

No teacher should be required to bear arms in the classroom or otherwise in order to feel or become safe.

If armed guards are required in the hallways or doorways of the classroom, the government shall provide this protection.

Article III

Teachers must be provided with all materials and facilities for a safe and well-equipped classroom including but not restricted to the following: an ergonomically sound chair in which to sit at a desk that is adequate to hold needed equipment and materials for teaching; enough desks, tables and/or chairs for every student; computers and ergonomically sound chairs for instruction and learning to keep up with latest technological advances and programs; adequate heat and air conditioning to keep the learning environment at a safe temperature for high level instruction; up-to-date textbooks, library books, computer programs and other instructional materials to promote maximum learning; daily cleaning and trash removal from classrooms with no pests or other health deterrents allowed to accumulate; clean and sanitary rest rooms with adequate resources for ultimate health; cafeterias that provide healthful foods and sanitary eating facilities; and all other necessary facilities and materials required for a safe and healthful teaching environment.

No teacher shall be required to provide classroom materials, etc., at one’s own expense due to failure of government to provide these items at the beginning, middle or end of the school year.

Article IV

As each additional testing unit or evaluation tool is added to the teacher’s workload, the State is required to add a additional stipend per year of teaching to each teacher’s salary.

In the past few years, teachers in the State of Tennessee have had numerous tests (TCAP, ThinkLink, county-wide assessments in several academic areas, etc.) added to their schedules; each of these requires many hours of additional planning and paperwork to the teacher’s schedule and has not been compensated accordingly.

The new Tennessee teacher evaluation system has cost teachers and administrators hundreds of hours of training and additional paperwork to satisfy many areas of justification for every word said in the classroom as well as every standard to be met on top of numerous evaluations in the classroom itself; this system is not adequately understood by those administering it at the State, local or school level and should be considered a temporary measure until it is so understood and regulated fairly.

Article V

Teachers must be given adequate time during days paid by the school system in which to prepare their classrooms at the beginning of the school year and should not be required to perform these tasks on their own time.

No school system shall require teacher evaluations during the first two months of school when teachers are getting to know their students and are initiating classroom procedures necessary for successful learning.

New teachers shall be given three months of setting up their classroom procedures before administrators can begin evaluations; each new teacher must have a faculty mentor who has been teaching for a minimum of 10 years and has a proven record of superior teaching skills.

Article VI

Any teacher accused of any infraction must have adequate legal protection until proven guilty by irrefutable evidence that neither the child, parent or guardian, nor any person accusing the teacher is guilty of lying for whatever reason.

No teacher’s name shall be released to the media until the guilt or innocence of the teacher is proven.

Equal publicity of the accuser’s name must also be provided if the teacher is proven innocent of the charge.

Article VII

If any governmental agency raises standards to the point that it appears that learning levels have been reduced according to the new standards, all schools shall be given an additional five years to meet new standards.

Teachers can not be penalized by changing the rules in the middle of the testing or evaluation period.

Numerical evaluation methods that have not been in place for a minimum of five years cannot allow an administration to fire a teacher until all procedures have been adequately worked out, tested and refined so that fairness to all is established; this rule is extended to all administrators also evaluated under the new system.

Article VIII

Any person initiating legislation that in any way can be viewed as reducing the rights of or lessening the privileges of the teaching profession should be required to sit in a classroom for five consecutive days and observe conditions the teacher faces.

If at the end of that time, the legislator still feels that his or her understanding of the teaching profession is superior to that of a teacher, the introduction of the bill may go forward.

Article IX

Recognition must be made that the public schools require teachers to accept any and all children to become a part of their classroom learning environment including but not restricted to the gifted learner, the average learner, the child with any form of disability (academically challenged, autistic, emotionally disturbed, medically disabled, etc.) and to adapt teaching methods to the needs of every child.

Teachers are not privy to business practices like a human resources department that screens new hires; therefore, the practices that sometimes work in the business world are not necessarily applicable to the classroom and should not be assumed appropriate.

Article X

Since children are facing extreme conditions in many cases (divorce of the parents, new step parents, being place in a foster home, death of a parent or guardian, incarceration of a parent or guardian, etc.), all personnel hired as a counselor or guidance counselor or other health professional should be allowed to counsel children without their having teaching responsibilities also.

With behavior problems resulting from emotional difficulties facing children, the need for full time counselors is at a crisis stage in schools and should be recognized as necessary for learning to occur in the classroom; the child who is having an emotional crisis needs to deal with this with a trained professional in order to be able to concentrate in the classroom and follow the teacher’s instructions.

All teachers should be allowed to report the need for counseling and other professional assistance for any child requiring this type of care in order to become a successful learner.

In Closing

The Teacher’s Bill of Rights should be communicated to all teachers, administrators, legislators and the general public in order to further understanding of a profession that is essential to the future of our society and is responsible for creating the environment in which learning must occur.

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