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THE NEED FOR FAIR AND MODERN EMPLOYMENT TERMS AT INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS

by admin on February 18, 2009

(A model for an IMPROVED CONTRACT follows)

Independent schools typically issue teacher contracts for one year only. It is also true that these can be terminated “for cause”–as vague as that is–or left unrenewed without warning. Under typical contract law, no reason need be given for non-renewal.

This creates in teachers a permanent position of weakness vis-à-vis the Head of School. The year-to-year quest for a new contract means that at no time during the year can a teacher criticize leadership without fear of the direst consequence.

When leadership is enlightened and tolerant all can participate in the direction of the school, and the faculty has a voice. When management goes wrong, however, and constructive criticism is not welcomed by the Head, the faculty quickly perceives that it has no true freedom of speech. Too often the teachers then tumble into a pattern of low morale and high turn-over.

One goal–and some faculties have achieved this–is a multi-year contract. Management need not view this as “tenure,” and it can be reserved for veteran faculty.

The security provided by such a package offers veteran faculty a chance, over a period of two or three years, to argue safely in faculty meetings for those changes which they see as essential.

Short of this goal, we encourage independent schools to design teacher contracts which are more in line with the norms and fair labor standards of this society. At the very least, contract language should show due respect to faculty who are highly educated, under-paid, and who can always shop for a new employer. Particular improvements are needed in language pertaining to termination. Fair and common procedure suggests that “cause” for termination should be defined, if only by reference to specifics in the faculty handbook, and that standard steps to counsel and to document under-performance should be outlined in the contract. We offer the following template as an improvement on the typical teacher contract.

Some schools have adopted this kind of language, with all its implications of fairness and due process. It is important to note that many other schools, who preserve the typically intimidating contract arrangements, could also benefit from discussions about their faculty handbooks. Administrations gain undue power from vagueness in these manuals; performance standards, counseling procedures, steps leading to termination, and severance procedures should be spelled out more concretely.

The following model contract gains strength–for both teachers and administration–to the extent that its terms are linked to clear language in the faculty manual: