Stronge, Richard and Catano (2008) wrote in their book Qualities of Effective Principals, that “one major emphasis in the educational arena in the early 21st century has been the continuing demand for greater accountability to increase student performance” (para. 2). They go on to say that “national and state expectations require schools to ensure that all students achieve mastery of curriculum objectives, and local schools focus on implementing those requirements to the best of their ability” (para. 2). Throughout my fieldwork, I have seen firsthand how legal or regulatory was involved or not involved in lesson planning, lesson execution, assessment of student learning, and leadership/professionalism. I was also got a feel for what my cooperating teachers' attitudes were about legal and regulatory guidance as well as how this guidance and the framework helped shape the instructional culture of the schools.
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Most of my fieldwork was done inside of public school districts. A public school has to deal with a lot of rules and regulations that don’t always come easy. One of those rules and regulations is in regards to keeping the children safe. That rule is that all staff has to pass a background check. I think that this is one extremely important rule and while doing my fieldwork even though I wasn’t getting paid. I was required to hold the same standard and I have to say that almost all of the schools that I did my fieldwork in required me to have this on file with them, but not only did I have to have my background check, I also had to show proof that I was an actual student. Now I have to say that I thought that this was interesting, not because I didn’t have the paperwork but because who would lie about being a student. So, me being the, I always as questions type of person that I am, asked one of my host principals, Mrs. Fruit, at the time why they require all of the paperwork from students when they come for observations or interviews. She told me that it was to protect the school from lawsuits. If I was to do something illegal while I was there, then they had the paperwork to prove who I was and under what reasons I was supposed to be there. I thought that this was reasonable. School districts need to make sure that they are protecting the children and people within their schools from people that mean to do them harm. By requiring this paperwork and contracts they are doing so.
Another incident where I have had experiences with legal and regulatory elements during my fieldwork is during an IEP meeting I set in on. I’m sure you can imagine all of the rules and regulations that come along with an IEP meeting. Not only do the teachers have rules and regulations that they have to follow, but so does each of the specialists. Sometimes these rules fall in the favor of the student and sometimes they do not. For example, I remember sitting in on an IEP meeting during my fieldwork that was the meeting where they told the parents the results from testing and while they could see that the child was struggling academically they couldn’t give the child an IEP because according to the rules and regulations the child didn’t need one. I think for teachers this is one of the hardest parts of the job. When I spoke to the teacher after the meeting we discussed how all too often you see children that really need help but do not fit into any of the criteria that would cause them to get the help they need. She went on to say that when this happens the best thing we can do as a teacher is to do our best to help the student. Sometimes they just fall through the cracks.
For me, this really hit home. If a teacher can really see that a child needs special help why is it that it is not detectable enough to warrant the help they need? The National Center for Learning Disabilities (2017) states that “not all children with learning and attention issues are identified in school as having a disability. They go on to say that “1 in 5 children with learning and attention issues are not formally identified with a disability” (para. 4). This all falls back on regulatory and legal issues. Schools can only do so much within the parameters they are given. Once it is proven that a child doesn’t meet those parameters teachers have to do their best with what they have for the student until it there is a time that the child can meet parameters set for special services. It is not fair but those are the rules.
The last occasion that I can think of when looking back on my fieldwork where I knew that there were legal or regulatory elements would have been lesson plans and the way in which they are executed. Each of the schools that I was in had a different way of doing their lesson plans. As a teacher, your lesson plans are like your bible of all the things that you want to do in that week. Sometimes they all get done and sometimes they don’t. But what happens when things don’t get covered, then what happens? This is one of the things that I talked to a host teacher once during an interview. We were talking about lesson plans and how they were difficult as a new teacher but as she became more seasoned she learned what she could and could not fit into a day. She also told me that sometimes lesson plans get scrapped because the children’s interests take a different direction. The key to keeping your job when that happens is to find a way to teach what you need to that covers what they are wanting to talk about. I found this very interesting. However, the bottom line is that the department of education sets standards that we need to teach to children and when those standards are not being met then you are not doing your job and there are consequences for you and the students.
In an article, I read by E.A. Gjelten (n.d.) titled What Are Teachers’ Responsibilities to Their Student, she states that “teachers have a wide range of responsibilities to students that come from a variety of federal, state, and local laws and regulations. If they don’t meet these standards, parents might be able to file complaints and force changes—or even to sue the school in some circumstances” (para. 1). She then goes on to state that “typically, teachers will face a range of penalties for violating the ethical rules, including losing their license temporarily or permanently” (para. 2). Teachers make lesson plans for a reason. Not just to create paperwork, but to show that they are doing their jobs. Sure sometimes you have to scrap a lesson and work on something else but that is not something that is done every day. Teachers prepare and organize lesson plans so that they are effective in teaching whichever standard they need to at the appropriate time.
Thinking back I would have to say that cooperating teachers’ attitudes about legal and regulatory guidance or frameworks was neither detained nor joy. It was more of I don’t always like it but I have to do it or use it so I will because I love my job. When talking to one of the host teachers I had she said the most difficult “rules” that she has to deal with are the learning standards. She told me that she has been teaching for 25 years and knows most of the standards but couldn’t quote you the number. She says that she has a book that she refers to when having to state a standard but a good teacher knows what they are supposed to teach and when to teach it. The only other thing that I have heard teachers complain about have been scheduling and common core. Both of which they have no control over. For the scheduling issues, Mrs. Pokarney tells me that they have a schedule set by the administration that they have to follow. This schedule provides the best and most productive day for the children. It might not give you the time you need to cover your lesson but you learn to be creative and fit everything in or come back to it.
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Looking at all of the things that teachers have to go through I can imagine that they have days where they get really fed up with rules and regulations. However, I know that deep down they know that it is a necessary evil. I think that the administration probably thinks the same way as well when they have to deal with the leadership and professionalism peace of education. From my field experience, I have seen the work that is put in by educators and administration just to perform as school improvement day. They go over guidelines and rules and sometimes this is the best or only time that administrators have to address issues that are going on in the school with the education staff as a whole.
When looking at how all of this affects the culture of a school, I would say that it greatly affects it. When you have a school that has teachers that are unhappy because of rules and regulations that are put into place that frustrate them it trickles down to the children and the atmosphere can become toxic. The same goes for administration. However, when you have an administration that supports teachers and simplify the understanding of the rules and regulations it makes it easier to handle and the moral of the staff is high and therefore the overall positivity is there.
When looking at how all of these rules and regulations from the federal government to the school board play a part in the school day it seems overwhelming. In Illinois, there are laws and regulations for everything under the sun. However, sometimes even that is not enough. The amount of time and effort that people in the education system puts into creating and following them outweighs the lawsuits and money that would be lost if we did not.
- Gjelten, E. A. (n.d.). What Are Teachers’ Responsibilities to Their Students ... Retrieved February 9, 2020, from https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/research/education-law/teachers-have-many-responsibilities-to-their-students.html
- National Center for Learning Disabilities. (2017). Identifying Struggling Students. Retrieved February 9, 2020, from https://www.ncld.org/research/state-of-learning-disabilities/identifying-struggling-students/
- Stronge, J. H., Richard, H. B., & Catano, N. (2008, November). Qualities of Effective Principals. Retrieved February 7, 2020, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/108003/ chapters/Instructional-Leadership@-Supporting-Best-Practice.aspx
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