Pitfalls and Precautions is a series that aims to educate teachers on professional conduct issues by highlighting situations addressed by the ATA Professional Conduct Committee.
Far too often the combination of interschool or community athletics and issues surrounding the Code of Professional Conduct manage to intersect. Any of us who are involved in sports as a player, coach, official or even a fan knows that the passion and intensity surrounding athletic competitions can sometimes cloud a person’s judgment. Nevertheless, passion and intensity are not valid excuses for poor behaviour.
A case in point is a matter that recently came before a professional conduct hearing. In this case the teacher was involved as a coach of a high school team sport. Simply put, poor judgment got the better of this coach.
On multiple occasions the coach engaged in both verbal profanity and gestures of profanity. The objects of the coach’s scorn included referees, spectators, players and opposing coaches. No one was left unscathed. The coach’s verbal admonishment of the referees was audible for those participating in games and also for those in attendance, which included parents, students, colleagues and community members. The coach swore at referees during games. The coach swore at another coach during the post-game handshake. When speaking with the team post game, the coach offered opinions of the other coach using colloquial language that was inappropriate for conversation with students. The coach also gestured to fans at a game by holding up a middle finger.
The teacher was found guilty of two charges of unprofessional conduct. It was determined that the teacher failed to maintain the honour and dignity of the profession by using obscene language and hand gestures. These actions were also deemed to demonstrate that the teacher failed to treat students with dignity and respect and be considerate of their circumstances.
In consideration of penalty, the hearing committee imposed a letter of reprimand and a fine of $300 to encompass both charges. (Note: In cases where fines are imposed, the teacher must pay the fine to the Association within 90 days of receipt of the hearing committee’s written decision. Failure to pay the fine within the prescribed timeline will result in the suspension of a teacher’s membership in the Alberta Teachers’ Association.)
In this matter, the hearing committee considered the teacher’s length of teaching experience. The teacher should have been fully aware of their professional responsibilities and their position as a role model for students. The responsibility that a teacher has towards the public and their students extends beyond the classroom. The teacher should have known better.
The hearing committee also weighed mitigating factors when determining penalty. The teacher had not previously been before a professional conduct committee. The teacher was also disciplined by their employer in this case. The employer issued the teacher a reprimand, suspended the teacher from teaching for several days, and suspended the teacher from coaching for one season. Additionally, the teacher was sanctioned by the local community sports governing body, which included removal from a coaching position and all other roles with the team. The teacher also issued numerous apologies to the parties involved in these actions. These apologies occurred immediately following the incidents in question and also at a later time.
Interschool and community athletics are an enriching element of the youth experience. They are also fun and rewarding ways for adults to give back to their local communities. These experiences can be ruined for many people if the lines of acceptable behaviour are crossed. As teachers we cannot divorce ourselves from our duties outlined in the Code of Professional Conduct. This is especially so when we continue to interact with students and parents in environments that may be outside of the school. In this case a fine is likely the least of the teacher’s concerns. They will have to reconcile the embarrassment that they have brought upon themselves. ❚