Q: I recently read a news story about a football coach getting in trouble for cursing in the locker room. What’s the big deal? I’m sure that this sort of thing happens all the time.
A. We’ve all read stories that go something like this: “The coach stared at Bobby as he trudged off the field. ‘I can’t believe you missed that &*%#$ tackle! Where is your *$#@ head at?!?’”
Bad habits: Everyone has them, and they can be really hard to break. However, bad habits that go unchecked can lead to serious problems. The ATPE Member Legal Services Department regularly receives calls with a theme—an educator has done something for years with no problem, even though it is unlikely they would advise a new educator to copy them. Perhaps this educator is a coach who engages in the “time-honored” practice of cursing in front of students. Perhaps it is a teacher who lightly “pops” a student if he isn’t paying attention to the lesson. Certainly, neither coach nor teacher means any harm; both the students and administration understand that fact and take it in stride. But, what happens when someone complains? Often, the complainer might be a student upset over a poor grade or disciplinary consequences. The educator in question might find that the focus of the situation quickly turns from the student’s behavior to his own.
After a complaint, that long history of engaging in questionable practices is likely to be characterized by the administration as a pattern of inappropriate action. The fact that the educator has been doing the same thing for years without complaint is not likely to be accepted as an excuse, and it is quite possible that the educator could face disciplinary consequences.
The truth of the matter is: Just because an educator has not had a complaint before does not mean that inappropriate actions can’t be subject to a complaint in the future. Similarly, just because the administration has not taken any disciplinary action or even spoken to the educator before—even if the administration knows what the educator is doing—administrators are not prohibited from enforcing disciplinary consequences on the educator if a complaint does arise. The standards for educator behavior are very high. The laws and rules governing educator behavior have no “grandfather clauses” that protect an educator simply because he has been doing something for a long time.
When it comes to behavior, it’s best to follow these rules:
- Act as if the principal, a parent and your own grandmother were standing behind you, watching your actions.
- Be consistent with how you would tell a new educator, fresh out of school, to act. .
And get rid of those bad habits right away.
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