Ongoing criticism and derogatory comments earn teacher a $4,500 fine
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. Some non-essential facts have been changed slightly to protect the identities of the parties involved.
An elementary school teacher was found guilty of unprofessional conduct for engaging in sustained, systematic and deliberate undermining of certain teachers and school leaders and for making derogatory comments about students.
The teacher was charged with criticizing and undermining colleagues, including teachers and school administrators; failing to treat pupils with dignity and respect; withholding forms necessary for student referral for educational assessment; and failing to uphold the honour and dignity of the profession.
The teacher made allegations of incompetence about teaching partners to parents and enabled educational assistants to direct teachers’ work and challenge teachers on their professional actions and standing. The teacher systematically shunned and undermined teaching colleagues who were new to the school. The offending teacher engaged in this behaviour in a manner that encouraged educational assistants to actively participate in a similar fashion.
Further, the teacher persistently shared criticism of school administration decisions with parents and the community and tried to get decisions overturned by inciting parents and community members to complain to administration.
Additionally, within the hearing of others, the teacher made derogatory remarks about vulnerable students who were on individualized program plans, calling them stupid and other similar terms.
This teacher’s behaviours had a broad impact on the school community, on individuals and on students.
The actions in question targeted and marginalized other teachers to the point that parents and community members noticed and commented on it. Others experienced fear of retaliation for speaking out against the teacher. The behaviour created apprehension among parents and community members, who came to lack confidence in the professional capabilities of the targeted teachers and school leaders. This negativity influenced the decisions parents made on their children’s behalf.
Based on the offending teacher’s dislike and shunning of their teacher, some students were excluded from enjoyable field trips and activities. Individual students who heard her derogatory remarks and whose assessments were delayed by the withholding of referral forms were negatively affected.
In its decision, the Professional Conduct Committee wrote, “(The teacher’s) flagrant unprofessional behaviours were significant, wide-ranging and pervaded the school and community in a manner that caused staff and community members to become polarized in issues instigated by (the teacher)…(whose) behaviour had a significant deleterious impact on staff, school leaders, students and parents.”
The committee’s hearing panel noted that the offending teacher engaged in these repugnant behaviours because of personal dislike, to retain authority over matters the teacher felt entitled to have authority over, and to fulfil personal interests.
The committee ordered a letter of severe reprimand and a fine of $4,500. Failure to pay a fine within a specified time frame will result in a teacher being suspended from membership in the Association, which has the corollary effect of disabling the teacher’s ability to teach in a public, separate or francophone school in Alberta.
In its determination of penalty, the committee took into account the fact that the teacher had been absent on medical leave the year prior to the behaviour. It also considered that the teacher’s behaviour may have been impacted by changes that had occurred within the school.
The committee believed the fine was necessary to provide both a specific and a general deterrent for similar behaviour, and to address the repeated, serious and expansive nature of the behaviour. The profession will not tolerate such unprofessional behaviour.
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