Guide to First Year Teaching/Legal stuff you need to know/Ethics and professional expectations

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The list here should serve as a guideline for professional conduct and for handling specific situations that might arise during the first year. These guidelines are divided into the categories of professionalism and student and parent interactions.


Be on Time! In most cases, teachers begin their day at 8:00 a.m.; however, there will be times when principals request the teachers to arrive earlier (such as during standardized testing weeks). Whatever the arrangement, being on time to work and to other assigned meetings and duties is essential.

Dress to impress! As a first-year teacher, your dress is important. It will set you apart from other students and, to a certain extent, from other teachers who are less serious about professionalism. Although we recommend wearing comfortable clothes, be sure to avoid tennis shoes, blue jeans, t-shirts, and clothing that distracts from your teaching (sorry, no loud Hawaii shirts).

Speak Wisely! Use formal speech in your dealings with students, colleagues, and superiors. Conversations about sex, sexual preferences, religious affiliation, political beliefs, and other potentially controversial issues should be avoided if possible. Furthermore, avoid criticism and/or gossip about fellow faculty members; this is extremely counter-productive.

Enforce School Rules Consistently! As a new teacher, you want to enforce all school rules and procedures. If the campus policy for a student tardy requires you to send them to the office, then enforce this even if the student begs for mercy or claims he/she was only a few seconds late. Explain to the student that this is a campus policy and that you cannot expect them to abide by the rules if you don’t.

Communicate Professionally! On most campuses, school-wide communication is carried out through the e-mail systems. As a new teacher, it is important to respond to all correspondence in a timely and professional manner. Personal use of the e-mail system and/or use of the phone systems should be kept to a minimum.

Get Active! This means getting involved in the process of the school and teaching. Getting active translates into many different types of activities: attending department meetings, asking colleagues for advice or lesson plan ideas, monitoring the hallways during passing period, sitting up front and being involved in teacher trainings or meetings, and/or signing up for workshops and conferences. A teacher who gets active in the school becomes part of the process of the school and strives for a variety ways to become a better teacher and develop students.

Student and Parent Interactions

Be consistent and fair! Make sure that you treat all students consistently with your policies and concerns. Having a set of rules and consequences posted will help establish this consistency.

Don’t Touch! In many cases, it is advisable not to touch students at all. Placing your hand on a student’s shoulder or grabbing a student’s arm can sometimes produce negative reactions for the students and can be misconstrued as an offensive action. Instead, use verbal clues or hand gestures to get a student’s attention. (Note on hugging: Do not attempt to hug students. If a student initiates the hug, attempt to have a side embrace or arm over the shoulder. In the long run, this will prevent any misunderstandings. The point here is to be careful and aware.)

Open Door Policy! An open door policy usually means that as a teacher you are willing to see students at any time before or after school. This is a good way to establish communication with a student. However, an open door policy should also mean to have your door open when dealing with students, especially if you are alone with a student. If you are having a conference with a student, consider having another teacher witness the conference.

Respect Confidentiality! Keep all records and information about the student’s grade and home life confidential unless you are sharing with other faculty members who have an active part in the success of that student. Gossiping about students to those who do not teach the student or to other adults is a violation of the student’s right to privacy.

Best Not to Make Promises to Students! In many cases, an inexperienced teacher will make a promise to a student and will be unable to fulfill their part of the bargain. A teacher should never make a promise to keep everything a student tells them confidential. For example, if a student reveals that he/she is being abused at home, you have a legal responsibility to report this to your campus administrator and possibly the Child Protective Services. Furthermore, avoid exchanging promises/gifts with a student such as in “If you turn in all your work, I’ll get buy you tickets to the movies.” These methods are counterproductive; they might compromise your professionalism.

Don’t Pickup Hitchhikers! Basic premise here is not to drive students in your own personal vehicle. You become liable for that student, and if you got into an accident your job as well as your health might be in jeopardy.

Your Personal Life is Personal! Disclosing personal information with your students about your history, relationships, and religious beliefs can compromise your professionalism. Focus on the content and issues related to the school while at school. This is plenty of time at home to dwell on the other stuff.

Document Phone Calls Home! Each time you call a parent, the reason for the call, and the outcome of the conversation should be recorded for future reference. This will allow you to refer to a history of conversations with a parent about the student. In addition, this documentation can be used to help facilitate parent-conferences.

Home Visit with Caution! When visiting the home of a student, make sure to notify the parents ahead of time. It may not be wise to appear unannounced. Furthermore, never enter the home of a student when there is no parent present. Be cautious on a home visit. As a teacher, you become liable for anything that might happen in the home while you are there. For example, if you are talking with a student in the front of the house and a fire is started in the back of the house by the little brother or sister, you might share part of the liability for that incident.

Keep Accurate Records! Perhaps one of the most essential parts of teaching public school is to keep accurate and up-to-date records of student grades. Throughout the course of the grading period, you should have a general idea of how students are performing. It is essential to notify students with progress reports, especially if they are failing the course. Parents want to be notified as soon as possible if their student is not passing the course.

Plan a Communication Strategy for Parents! Think of ways that you can engage parents in a positive role in your classroom environment. Also, consider the various ways to get in contact with a parent. See “Communicating with Parents” under “The School Environment.”