Discussions about how to motivate educators to change their practices often overlook opportunities provided by employment contracts, human relations policies, and job descriptions. These legal documents are designed to protect both employer and employee. But they can also be used to encourage certain professional behaviors. When constructed appropriately, they can become tools that help teachers understand job expectations and tools that help administrators focus teachers' and principals' work in a new direction.
Teachers are increasingly being viewed as leaders who do more than just follow someone else's set of directives. They are expected to collaborate with other teachers on teams, analyze data, and match their instruction to state and national standards. So, the documents given to prospective, new, and continuing teachers should use language that conveys the organization's respect for their professional stature. The language of legal documents can still be firm in terms of expectations of professional personnel, but in fundamentally different ways than legal documents that pertain to noncertified district personnel.
The two contract examples in Figure 1 are explicit about accountability. The difference is in the tone used in the professional academic contract and the standard teaching contract. For example, the first point in the standard teaching contract under "terms and conditions" specifies the chain of command and shows that the board has essentially given the superintendent all of the necessary authority to resolve personnel issues. In that contract, the wording includes "subject to" and "in the sole opinion of." This contract paints a picture of a district that could be dictatorial and uncompromising with little regard for the professional credentials of employees being evaluated or disciplined. Obviously, how that works in reality depends a great deal on the superintendent's personality and managerial philosophy, but the contract's rigid and uncompromising language suggests to an applicant that no other considerations are possible.
FIG. 1. Examples of Standard and Professional Teaching Contracts
STANDARD TEACHING CONTRACT
XYZ School District offers you the position of ____________ for the school year beginning __________________ and ending ___________ at an annual salary of _____________ under the following terms and conditions:
Teachers are subject to the direction of the superintendent, as delegated by the Board of Education of XYZ School District. The superintendent has the authority to hire, assign, evaluate, and terminate teachers. A teacher may be terminated at any time and without prior notice for any reason that, in the sole opinion of the superintendent, is contrary to the interests of the district, and the district shall no longer be obligated to provide any wages or benefits.
The annual salary described above is payable in semi-monthly installments throughout the entire year.
The classroom teaching period of the academic year is a period of about nine months, commencing on______________, the first day of school, and ending on ______________, the last day of school.
The summer period is a part of the academic year. While this is a period for rest and renewal, the superintendent may require the teacher to participate in school activities that, in the sole judgment of the superintendent, will materially contribute to the teacher's professional development and the district's continuing mission. These activities may include but are not limited to:
Interviewing teacher or student candidates;
Planning curricula and classroom projects for the ensuing year;
Ordering classroom materials and supplies;
Inservice work and self-study in concert with the school's professional development program; and
Other school-related activities.
Teachers will be assigned additional duties, both inside and outside of the classroom environment, that may be necessary for the proper functioning of the school. …