Teachers' Rights in the Classroom

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

As teachers, we often feel that we have lost a lot of our rights when we enter the classroom. However, though our profession comes with certain limitations, we still retain certain rights. In this lesson, we will look at the rights of teachers within the classroom.

Teachers' Rights

As teachers, often in our careers we get told when we can eat and when we can use the restroom. We often work eight hours straight without so much as a fifteen-minute break that even a fast-food employee enjoys. Your school district may give you long lists of rules that cover everything from the shoes you can wear to work, to the types of pictures you can post on Facebook. However, it is important for us to remember that we still have rights in the classroom.

Teaching Certificates

After years of hard work to obtain your teaching certificate, and then the continual work to maintain your teaching certificate, it is precious. Fortunately, as teachers, we have rights that protect our certificates from arbitrary revocation. Depending on the state that you teach in, there will be a list of grounds that constitute just cause for a Department of Education to suspend or revoke your teaching certificate. A just cause is a reason sufficient enough to justify an employer immediately terminating your employment.

One common reason used as just cause for firing a teacher is immoral conduct. Acts that constitute immoral conduct can include acts ranging from consensual sexual contact with a minor, or other offenses such as sexual assault. Violating any state or federal criminal laws, or repeated convictions depending on the nature of the criminal act, can be considered immoral conduct as well. For example, one speeding ticket is unlikely result in the revocation of one's teaching license. However, if a teacher demonstrates that she has repeatedly broken a law, that may result in the revocation of her license.

Willful neglect of duty and unprofessional conduct are two other common reasons that a teacher's license could be revoked. Willful neglect of duty could entail deliberately choosing to not perform the job functions as described by your school district or state. This could include things such as refusing to submit documentation to your administrators related to lesson planning or teacher evaluations. Unprofessional conduct may include a range of behavioral choices, such as drinking at work or making racial slurs in the workplace. Other reasons shown below can also include incompetency or fraud.

Reasons for Revocation of a Teaching License
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Freedoms Under the Law

Freedom of expression is a right we enjoy in the United States. We still have the right to express ourselves through our clothing, as long as we dress professionally. For example, if you were a Jewish man, you would have the right to wear your kippah in the classroom. A woman of Indian culture could wear her sari in the classroom as well. A Christian might choose to wear a crucifix if she wanted to. We have the same freedom from discrimination as any person in any other job may enjoy.

However, cases such as Pickering v. Board of Education have shown that while teachers don't lose their right to freedom of speech when they enter the classroom, the courts have ruled through these cases that there are certain restrictions. It draws clear distinctions for educators in terms of their freedom of speech outside the classroom versus freedom of speech when acting in their professional capacity.

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