Wyoming Education Association

Fall 2015

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Back To School 2015 | wyoea.org 7 5 Back-To-School Tips To Avoid Legal Problems Erin M. Kendall/Hacker, Hacker & Kendall, P.C. The beginning of the school year is a great time to start fresh. This includes making sure you are doing all you can to protect yourself from legal problems. Employment problems can happen to anyone, even the best and brightest. Many employees with serious employment issues never dreamed it would happen to them, so it is essential to do all you can to avoid these problems and to be able to protect yourself if you do face them. Here are some tips to keep you on track: 1. Familiarize yourself with district and school policies Making sure you know what is in district policy is the first step toward making sure you are complying with policy. Many school employees assume they know what district policy says, but it is always better to be sure than to later discover that you've done something wrong. Plus, there may have been changes to policies, or policies you might not be aware of. Additionally, many schools have implemented building-level policies and guidelines. Some important policies to familiarize yourself with include: leave policies, computer/email use policies, social media policies, policies regarding communication with students, and any other policies related to professional teacher conduct. Make sure that you are aware of these rules before you have any issues. 2. Watch for warning signs of performance issues If you are an experienced teacher or have never had any performance issues, it's easy to assume that you'll continue to receive positive evaluations. However, even the best teachers can have problems with their performance, whether the problems are real or just the opinion of an administrator. Don't wait until evaluation time to think about your teaching performance. Watch for concerns from administrators, parents, or even other teachers early on, so you can address them immediately and prevent them from becoming more serious. Whether or not you believe a concern about your performance is justified, act promptly to address it by working with administration and seeking assistance from local representatives or your UD. By the time performance concerns show up on an evaluation, it may be too late to address them and you may find yourself in a situation where your employment could be in jeopardy. 3. Keep good documentation Keep consistent documentation of your teaching and classroom activities as well as any issues that arise. You should make sure you have records of things like your classroom teaching and grading, along with records of your significant interactions with parents, students, and other employees. Keep notes of meetings with students, parents, or administrators, and copies of communications you send and receive. Things that seem insignificant now may turn out to be important later, so your documentation may not only help you remember things, but also help protect you if there are questions or concerns in the future. 4. Establish good practices for communicating with students Interaction with students via text message and social media is a hot button issue in many districts right now. Texting and using Facebook are familiar to students, so it may be tempting to communicate with students that way, especially if they reach out to you or you are only communicating about school issues. However, this kind of communication violates policy in some districts and is full of potential problems related to appropriate teacher/student boundaries. Establishing good communication practices with students at the beginning of the school year by letting them know you won't communicate with them via text or be Facebook friends with them can help you avoid any of these potential landmines. 5. Seek assistance sooner rather than later It's easy to think that you can handle problems on your own or that issues will just blow over. However, you can soon find that you are in over your head or that the issues have escalated into something serious. Seek the assistance of local representatives or your UD any time a concern is raised or a complaint is made about you, and don't be afraid to ask to have a representative at a meeting. It is also appropriate to seek advice or assistance any time you have a concern about issues such as your treatment by administrators or the well-being of students. Many times, employement issues can be avoided if you get the proper assistance and advice from the start.

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