Q&A: Teachers have legal authority to teach

December 6, 2016 Gordon Thomas, Executive Secretary

Question: Can a school board direct a teacher not to use a learning resource? Can a board prescribe the instructional practices to be used with students?

Answer: Probably not.

Based on calls and emails to my office, this is clearly a growing area of concern for our members. Teachers have reported that they have been directed not to use a particular learning resource. I’ve also heard from teachers who have been directed to teach certain lesson plans in order to fulfill centrally determined school authority objectives or programs. The concern has been the effort not only to limit the teacher’s responsibility for “diagnosing educational needs [and] prescribing and implementing instructional programs” (Code of Professional Conduct) but also to compromise the teacher’s statutory responsibilities as established in the School Act.

A teacher is a professional who has completed a mandated education program leading to a certificate of qualification as outlined in the School Act. In accordance with the School Act, a teacher is required to provide instruction competently to students (section 18(1)(a)); to teach the courses of study and education programs that are prescribed, approved or authorized pursuant to the act (section 18(1)(b)); and to regularly evaluate students and periodically report evaluation results to students, the students’ parents and the board (section 18(1)(e)).

In addition, a teacher is required to adhere to the Code of Professional Conduct (section 8(1)(f) and section 23, Teaching Profession Act) and the Teaching Quality Standard (section 8 (1)(g.1) and Practice Review Bylaws of the Alberta Teachers’ Association), and failure to do so could lead to an investigation of a teacher’s professional conduct or a review of the teacher’s professional practice. These are statutory obligations that cannot be transferred to others.

While a teacher can be assigned ­duties by a principal or by a board (subject to the teacher’s collective agreement and contract of employment), there are clearly limits to the ability of a principal or board to direct teachers with respect to teachers’ statutory responsibilities. Unless instructional material is prohibited by the education minister (section 39(1)(e) of the School Act), a teacher is free to use any learning resource to assist in the preparation of lessons.

Of course, a lesson should achieve elements of the program of studies, and a teacher must adhere to the Code of Professional Conduct and meet the Teaching Quality Standard.
The Lynden Dorval Board of Reference case made very clear that a teacher is not a technician, but has statutory obligations for instruction and evaluation of students. Efforts by others to supersede those professional responsibilities do not respect the statutory responsibilities of individual teachers and may not be lawful.

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Gordon Thomas at Barnett House (gordon.thomas@ata.ab.ca).

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