Teacher Etiquette Tips for the Modern Education Professional
When I was finishing my undergraduate degree, cell phones were fairly mainstream but texting was still a brand new feature. We did have some class discussion about topics such as personal phone calls in front of students and answering cell phones in meetings. However, there are a wealth of new potential areas for disaster in the world of education that were not present when I was an undergraduate, such as teachers "friending" parents on Facebook that should also be addressed.
I've included a combination of modern age etiquette tips for teachers and other general advice for teacher etiquette with other teachers, non-teaching staff, administrators, parents, community members, and students.
General Professional Etiquette Tips
All of these tips are appropriate for any work place setting. The world of education is no exception.
- Attire. As much as I dislike cheesy teacher clothing (i.e. applique leaf sweaters, snowmen vests), it is generally more appropriate than clothing that is too tight and/or too revealing. As a 30 something female, I feel like a prude talking about how inappropriately so many young people dress, but I'm frequently embarrassed for all 20 and early 30 somethings when I see what other people my age regularly wear to work. What you like to wear out on the weekends to a club is not okay to wear when teaching.
- Punctuality. Abide by the school's contracted hours for teachers and show up on time (even early) for all work functions such as IEP meetings and professional development events. If you do need to leave early, let your administrator know ahead of time. Most of the time they will be understanding, particularly if these absences are infrequent or if they are aware of an extenuating circumstance (i.e. sick parent).
- Effectiveness. Use work time effectively and appropriately. This includes use of technology. Bidding on eBay, obsessively checking your personal e-mail account, and having extended texting sessions with friends during work hours are not appropriate work behaviors. I know that most teachers are way too busy during the day to even think about this, but I've seen it all and feel that it should be said.
- Behavior in meetings. While I am not a big advocate of most public education professional development, it is still important to engage in respectful behavior during all school meetings. This includes general staff meetings, smaller team meetings, IEP meetings, etc. Whatever your role is in a meeting, you shouldn't be checking your cell phone or computer unless there is some type of emergency. If you need to contact someone during a longer training session, step out of the room discretely or wait for a break.
- Communication. I have been appalled at the number of e-mails I've received over the years from professionals with blatant spelling errors and grammar mistakes that I wouldn't expect from a 5th grader. I'm a little anal when it comes to grammar and do realize that some mistakes will slip by even the best of us. But I get upset when I receive a district wide e-mail from a superintendent with the wrong form of the word "there." Please take the time to proofread all e-mails and class mailings (i.e. newsletters). Have someone else proofread all professional documents (i.e. IEPs, grant proposals, etc.) before you submit them.
Etiquette with Other Teachers
- E-mail communication. All communication through school technology (phones, e-mail, etc.) with fellow teachers should be something that you should be comfortable with any administrator or technology staff member reading. If it isn't appropriate for the school environment, save it for personal communication (i.e. home e-mail, personal cell phone). Aside from school sensitive topics, this includes communication such as inappropriate e-mail forwards.
- Discretion. Use discretion when talking about students and anything confidential with other teachers. There are situations where it's appropriate to discuss such topics, but it can be very easy to gossip. Don't fall into this trap.
- Avoid cliques. I'm sure that it's not a surprise that in schools, particularly in elementary schools where the staff is primarily female, there are a number of staff cliques. Rise above this middle school behavior. It may mean that you have less friends at work, but it is worth the sacrifice. It also sets a good example for your students. How can we expect students to learn how to respect others and treat them as we'd want to be treated if we don't practice this behavior ourselves?
- Language/topics. Use appropriate language and stick to appropriate topics in the school environment, particularly in front of students. This includes referring to other teachers as Mr./Mrs. ____ and not discussing students unless it is necessary for a given situation.
- Social media communication. There is nothing wrong with communicating with your fellow teachers on Facebook, Twitter, etc. However, it's important to keep school talk away from these public forums. Not only is it not professional, but you never know who might be reading. Keep comments on your Facebook Wall and Twitter feed about school positive and fairly general, i.e. "I'm excited about the football game tonight. Go Hawks!" or "Yay for a snow day!"
Using improper social media etiquette can affect your job | WISN 12 News
Etiquette with Non-Teaching Staff
- Respect. Teachers or not, everyone who works in a school plays an important role. You never know when you'll need to ask for a favor from the secretary, lunch ladies, or janitorial staff. Make sure that you know how much you appreciate their work with your students and around the school in general.
- Discretion. Just as it's important to use discretion when talking with the teaching staff, it's important to use discretion with other staff members. The same rules apply.
- Social media communication. The same rules apply that did with fellow teachers.
Etiquette with Administrators
- Respect. Even those who have great teaching positions will most likely encounter one or two administrators during their teaching careers who they really don't respect or just don't get along with very well. Regardless of any differences, it is still important to treat your administrators with respect both directly and with your other co-workers.
- Communication. Learn how your administrators like to communicate. Within a single system, there may be differences, such as how the principal communicates with staff vs. how the superintendent communicates. Some administrators appreciate a quick phone call or e-mail to give a heads up about an issue, even if it may require a longer discussion later, while others would rather talk it all out in person. If you're new to a school system and aren't sure how to begin, get tips from your co-workers.
- Maintain an appropriate relationship. Even if a principal or superintendent does not have the power to fire a teacher, they are still on a higher rung in the chain of command. They are not your friends. Thus, it is not appropriate to be friends with your administrators the way that you can be with your fellow teachers.
- Avoid cliques. I have seen schools where certain groups of teachers would get an "in" with a principal and purposely leave other teachers out of important school decisions. Principals are as much at fault as teachers are for allowing this behavior to take place. It's important to get a read on the kind of issues that these teachers are bringing to the principal. If they aren't vital, don't even let them bother you. If they are, do what you can to involve the staff as a whole instead of allowing a single group to hold the power. Regardless, do not get sucked into an "elite" group that purposely excludes other teachers.
- Cliques among teachers - ProTeacher Community
Is there a problem with cliques among the staff at your school? Join the discuss at proteacher.net for tips and support.
Etiquette with Parents
- Topics. Don't discuss other students or confidential school issues (i.e. layoffs, proposed budget cuts) unless it is applicable, i.e. their child is having repeated problems with another student in your class.
- Respect. Most teachers will deal with a wide range of parents throughout their teaching careers. If you are lucky, you will have a lot of parents that you respect with the occasional few that make it hard to find positives. Whatever the circumstances may be, it's important for you give parents the respect that they deserve. Always hear out their opinions and do your best to be understanding of their circumstances.
- Timing. Most parents do not want to hear about an important issue with their child, particularly if it's negative, over the phone or through an e-mail. It is also not important to introduce a major issue or concern at a parent teacher conference. In most cases, it is appropriate to schedule an in person meeting to talk about such topics. Parents will be more receptive and everyone will be able to communicate more clearly than they would over the phone or through e-mail.
- Open communication. There is no single correct method of communication for all parents. Some parents prefer to get a phone call while others prefer an e-mail or text while still others will send notes with their kids. If the majority of your parents use e-mail regularly, it may easiest to send newsletters and mass messages that way. Make sure that parents know how to get in touch with you and respond to their messages within 24 hours.
- Social media...where do you draw the line? I am wary about the idea of being friends with parents on Facebook and Twitter. If you do decide to do this, I highly recommend keeping all school talk off social media. Using a school e-mail account will provide accountability for you. Even though most issues can be resolved relatively easily, you never know when you'll need to save messages to show your principal, superintendent, or (God forbid) a court. Having a record of e-mails from a school account will be very beneficial for you.
Parent Teacher Conference gone wrong...so true.
Etiquette with Community Members
- Discretion. Just as you shouldn't discuss budget cuts or layoffs with parents, you should discuss them with random community members either. If you get questions at school functions such as science fairs or school dances, refer people to your administrators or the appropriate parties. Stay away from anything that you can't disclose and keep topics in a positive light whenever possible.
- Role model. As a teacher in the community, it's important to maintain a public image as a good role model for your students. This means making smart choices when you're in community places where you may run into students and staff (grocery store, library, etc.) and in public forums online such as Facebook. If you go to a bachelorette party out of town, don't post a lot of drunk pictures of yourself on Facebook the next week. Keep your private life private.
Etiquette with Students
- Appropriate relationships. Your students are not your friends. They are also not your own kids. Kids are looking for a positive teacher role model. You need to fill that role the best that you can and not try to be something that you shouldn't be for them.
- Setting an example with technology. You expect your students not to fool around on the computer, answer their cell phones, or text during class. Set an example by not engaging in these behaviors either unless there is some sort of an emergency or something that cannot wait (i.e. a phone call from the principal).
- Topics and language. Just as you keep your topics and language with other teachers and staff members appropriate in front of students, you'll keep them appropriate when you're on your own with your students, too.
- Respect. All students deserve to be treated with the same respect that you give adults. Take the time to hear their feelings and opinions. Sometimes a student may just need time to talk to a grown up, even if it's just to get a listening ear and not necessarily looking for an opinion or help with something. If you can't take time out during class, see if a student will talk to you during lunch, recess, or a special class (i.e. art, music). Even a few minutes may make a world of difference for that student.
- Sharing personal information. I don't think that it's appropriate to share social media information or other personal contact information with students. However, there is nothing wrong with giving out a personal e-mail address and/or phone number to a trustworthy high school or college student after he has graduated. Some students want to keep in touch to network. As former students move up in the world, you never know when they may be able to return the networking favors or give you a valuable resource.
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