|Documents important to all Teachers
Kyle Farmer, Charles Brooks
Kyle: The first topic we are going to cover today is important documents that all teachers really need to know about when they start their teaching career. There are a lot of them some of them might be more important than others I think there are a few documents that every teacher needs to know about and needs to have a good grasp on before they get started, so they know what’s coming to them in the years coming up. The first one is obviously and the most important is your teaching contract you sign every year.
Charles: Absolutely, that’s an extremely important document. The first thing really to look at is your salary and your placement on the salary schedule, especially the very first year you start in a district, because those policies vary from district to district as to where you might start, so if you move districts it is important to look at where they place you on that salary schedule, because truthfully after the fact correcting a teachers placement is extremely difficult.
Kyle: Yeah, it is rough and it is harder to go up the salary schedule, but it is also hard to come back down and that happens from time to time to where someone is supposed to get paid let’s say $40,000 a year and instead the district pays them $50,000 a year. Eventually the district will figure that out and they will want their money back and that does happen the district is going to come back and want their money and they are going to get it and then at the end of the year you owe them an extra $10,000. As you get paid as teachers that is hard to come up with, so be very conscious of where that money goes and make sure that you are getting the right numbers as well.
Charles: And of course that one page contract is not necessarily all inclusive there are other documents that affect that such as school board policy.
Kyle: Yeah the one page that you get is pretty minimal and doesn’t really help you quite at all, but everything is incorporated into that contract it’s the board policy it’s any procedure that goes along with the policy, regulations and forms you are going to have manuals a faculty handbook that is going to be an issue and also if your district has a master contract that’s going to be very important for you to understand that that’s out there and that it is something you are going to have to follow along with your contract.
Charles: And of course those are things that apply to everyone who is on a contract. The things that you need to be looking for are the things that are specific to you like the amount of your salary, the number of payments, what benefits might be listed on that document and of course the beginning date and the length of the school year are extremely important as well as what are your job responsibilities and some districts are more detailed in that explanation than others in specifying what you are teaching and so forth.
Kyle: Most of the time it is not going to be as specific as you are going to teach 3rd grade in room six in this building most of the time it is going to be you are going to be a teacher in this district and we are going to assign you later, so don’t get hung up too much on the job responsibilities, but it is something that I think you need to be aware of, so let’s go back to the board policy a little bit and talk about that. Board policies vary from district to district there are a lot of districts that have the same or very same policies, but you need to know what your school district policy looks like and how it is going to guide your district, that’s the boards job how they set this picture goal and then they put it down in writing for policy and it is important for you to know what that looks like.
Charles: And I suppose the best way to find that information is to actually read the board policy.
Kyle: Sure that’s going to be terribly boring unfortunately, but that is right.
Charles: There are a lot of things that relate more directly to your role as an employee in the faculty handbook or in the board policy and sometimes that manifests itself as the faculty handbook, which is really just a smaller reference for quicker answers sometimes those are building specific as to arrival times, procedures for requesting sick days, dress code, and so forth, so the faculty handbook can also be a valuable resource.
Kyle: It is it is a great resource, but it is not the end all you have to be careful if you go to your faculty handbook sometimes that does not align correctly with the school district policy administrators are in charge of that handbook and your board is in charge of the policy manual there are going to be times there is conflict between the two, board policy always wins. If your board policy says you have to be there 30 minutes before students show up and 30 minutes after students leave and your handbook says you can do 20 and 40 before and after if somebody pushes you board policy is going to win it’s going to win every single time and that is just the nature of the beast and it is too bad, but you need to know your board policy is going to win out.
Charles: So, it sounds like the important thing is to know where to find a copy of your districts policies you know state law requires that board policies procedures handbooks be on a district website not every school district has a website, but the number of districts that don’t are very few, but that board policy could also be housed at central office or a building office sometimes in the school library media center of course when they are online it is very easy to find that policy without anyone knowing that you have gone to the policy to look for an answer.
Kyle: This isn’t a situation where I want you to go and have a policy manual on your bedside table that’s not necessary, but it is important for you to know how to get to that and sometimes it’s not going to be online sometimes it is going to be hard to find that’s something that we can help you with. MSTA can go out and help you find a policy we can go request it instead of you going to request it that is something Charles that you do quite a bit as a field rep.
Charles: Yes, and not just board policies, but I have also requested the PBTE booklet the Performance Based Teacher Evaluation booklet sometimes there is information there that is pertinent, so that is not a problem for us to make that request to central office as well as something like a master contract, because those are all public documents, so most school districts are willing to provide us with those copies when we ask for them.
Kyle: And not everything in the board policy manual is important to you I mean it is hundreds of pages and there are a lot of things in there that your just not going to care about, but there are certain sections, the personnel section is a big chunk of your policy manual and that is the kind of stuff that is going to be in your faculty handbook you know we talked about dress codes, benefits and that sort of thing there are also policies on student and staff relations staffs relations, technology policies, policies on instruction, curriculum assessment all those sorts of things, so there is a lot of stuff out there, but it’s not like you need access to everything. Technology is also something that comes up quite a bit for us in this context.
Charles: And that’s understandable particularly in the context of social media and electronic communication this has not been an issue really for the previous generation of teachers, but there is so much technology available now and most of those are covered by board policy whether it is text messaging, email, Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, Skype, instant messaging, all of those things generally fall under one blanket technology or electronic communication policy.
Kyle: And that actually stems from a fairly new statute we have in the state of Missouri that actually requires all districts to have that policy regarding electronic communication between employees and students and the goal is to sort of regulate and control how much conversation goes on between our employees and our students on websites like Facebook, twitter and that sort of thing essentially you need to be using your technology whether it is at school or at home if you are interacting with your students it needs to be in a professional and appropriate manner, and you have got to be able to prove it that what you are doing is appropriate. You have to be able to show that the conversations you are having are conversations you would have at school if you are not going to have the conversation at school you are not going to have it over Facebook, so my number one piece of advice is be very careful and quite honestly stay away from your kids on these private social networks don’t be personal friends with your students on Facebook don’t converse with them on twitter using direct messaging or things people can’t see you need to be very, very careful with how you use these.
Charles: There are plenty of examples where teachers have gotten in trouble or in appropriate electronic communication with students and truthfully sometimes even inadvertent electronic communications with students that is why it’s extremely important to be careful to know who is following you on twitter, Instagram, who is looking at your Pinterest board who are your Facebook friends it doesn’t hurt to review that list periodically sometimes it is easy to except a friend request when you did not intend to, so review those lists periodically to make sure students are not seeing things that they shouldn’t be seeing.
Kyle: Again, it comes down to being a professional as teachers we want to be treated in a professional manner and that means we have to act as professionals. We can’t be friends with these kids on a very general basic basis we still have to be professional we have to be the teacher and we have to be the adult. You can use technology and I think you should use technology and you can use technology to communicate things to your kids that’s fine, but make sure you are doing it the right way make sure you are doing it in accordance with your school districts policy, because if you don’t it is something like you said it happens all the time teachers get in trouble for this stuff all the time. One of the caveats to this that we saw when this new law came into play was teachers wanted to be Facebook friends with their own children, because they tell you that is the easiest way to keep an eye on your kids online perfectly acceptable, but you still need to be careful and be careful with your kids friends if anything happens if you start getting direct messaging from kids online print out a copy take it in to your principal and show them they don’t probably care they don’t want that, but it is a good way to cover yourself with this document that you are trying to be the professional individual that we all know that we are.
Charles: Another important area to keep in mind is don’t let kids use your classroom computer when you are signed in as yourself they can get to places they just shouldn’t go, grade information, confidential student information they can impersonate you via email or they could go to inappropriate websites. If you are logged in as yourself the mouse droppings that are on that trail then belong to you, so that is another area where it is a good idea to be careful.
Kyle: Because you are either going to have to prove that it wasn’t you and if you do that then that means great you didn’t go to the inappropriate website, but you still allowed a kid to have access to a district computer they should not have had access to. Either way you are not in a good spot.
Kyle: Let’s talk about salary schedules and addendums that might be fairly important to folks, because they typically like to know how much they are going to get paid.
Charles: The salary schedule really covers your basic teaching duties, so and those schedules look different from district to district most of the time there are columns and rows and as a matter of paying attention to where you are and also knowing how fast you can move on that salary schedule, because sometimes you can only move one column or one row at a time, so those are important things to know about your districts salary schedule and of course an addendum would cover any extra duty contracts, stipends, or things like coaching or sponsorships of clubs.
Kyle: Now the next one on our list is your pay check and your stub, which might not be a typical document that people would consider important, who cares it’s a stub that says how much money went in to my checking account, but I think it is important it is something that you need to take a look at you need to make sure the numbers are correct and you need to take a look at the things like your deductions your taxes are they taking taxes out are your MSTA dues being paid are they paying into the retirement system and that sort of thing insurance is another big one make sure that all of those things are there and all of those numbers are correct. It is harder to fix that problem in than it is in September.
Charles: And retirement is a really important one to pay attention to, because that amounts to a pretty big chunk of change MSTA has worked with more than one teacher who has had issues with retirement not being taken out properly, and it is not just about the money, but it is also out that time counting toward your retirement and 8-9 years after the fact it is really tough to fix. Not to mention trying to repay your portion to the retirement system plus interest is going to amount to pretty hefty amount of cash.
Kyle: That’s a lot of money to make up on a short schedule, so absolutely. Substitute procedures and emergency procedures I think are something that are easily overlooked documents, but they are incredibly important the substitute procedures are something that you need to have ready at all times and emergency procedures are those things we never want to use, but quite honestly it is going to happen at some point it is pretty mundane, but it can be a big deal, it’s more of a big deal if you don’t have them than if you do.
Charles: I have never heard any feedback from an administrator complaining that a teacher’s substitute or emergency plans were too detailed. They need to be extremely detailed in your sub packet include extra activities that are learning appropriate not just busy work. It is important for a substitute to know when kids go where when and obviously that is a larger factor at the elementary level when kids are pulled out for reading or special classes, but include information about who are the recourses to help if you have a question, but also include information about what is the districts discipline procedure, because sometimes kids are better behaved for their regular classroom teacher than they are for the substitute and those emergency procedures are critical. We typically think about fire and tornado procedures, but most districts have procedures for what to do if there is an intruder in the building how to handle health issues if a child becomes sick or passes out hopefully most teachers won’t have to deal with those kinds of issues, but your substitute needs to be prepared in case something like that does happen.
Kyle: It is like car insurance something that you have to have, but you never want to use it, but again you are right is better to have it and be more detailed than you need to be.
Kyle: So the last one on our list is your professional development documents this includes things like your professional development plan, which is really important for young teachers because that is a way for you to not only move on in your certification process, but also a good way for you to work on maybe some issues you are having. Listen when you come out of college you are not a perfect teacher yet and you are going to have issues and they are going to be things that you need to work on and that is what the professional development plan is for to figure out what those things are and come up with a way for you to become a better teacher, because that should be our goal we should all want to become better teachers and that is what this document is for.
Charles: Right your mentor is another great source for information as well as a resource for your professional development plan, because there is value in that experience and they have seen and done things that as a teacher early in your career you have not encountered those types of issues, so don’t overlook your mentor as a resource as well.
Kyle: Absolutely, use those folks as much as you can. Those are the most common documents you are going to see in your teaching career there are going to be others that can pop up over time, but these are the most important and that should give you a good place to start as you begin your career.