Information for New Teachers in Texas

When starting a new job, it is important for the employee to know his or her responsibilities and rights. The Texas Administrative Code (TAC) provides helpful information all teachers in Texas should know. There is a code of ethics all educators must follow, and requirements for employment and continued employment. In addition, the the Education Code protects teachers from unsafe work environments. Finally, required planning time for teachers to prepare for classes is protected by the Education Code.

First, Chapter 247 of the TAC explains in great detail the Teacher Code of Ethics. Most of it is common sense information, explaining that teachers must properly use funds, and they must comply with all federal, state, and local laws. They are also expected to avoid bribes and not use their position to gain privileges or advantages. Of course, violence is not permitted, and teachers are forbidden from providing drugs or alcohol to minors. One of the less obvious rules states that teachers must be very careful when communicating with students, especially via electronic communication. The educator must ensure that all communication, including text messages, social networking, and email, is deemed appropriate. Factors considered when determining if the communication is appropriate in the nature and subject, and if the communication is open or concealed. Any mention of sexual attractiveness would automatically render the communication inappropriate. Many school districts forbid teachers from communicating with students on Facebook, Twitter, or other social network sites. However, other districts take the opposite approach, encouraging teachers to use the sites in order to tap into the students' interest in technology. Teachers should carefully read their contract and be aware of their district's policy regarding social networking. If teachers are encouraged to have a Facebook page, they need to ensure that all communication is open to parents and is appropriate. Please note that this article does not address all of the Code of Ethics, so it is important for teachers to peruse all of it. It is available online through a simple Google search (Texas Teacher Code of Ethics).

In addition to the Code of Ethics, the administrative code explains the requirements for districts to hire teachers. They may hire teachers under a probationary contract, a continuing contract, or a term contract. Teachers must hold a valid Texas teaching certificate. If the teacher does not have a valid certificate when it is time for contract renewal, the district may dismiss him or her. If the district prefers, it may suspend the employee without pay, or retain the employee for the rest of the school year on an "at-will employment basis." However, if the employee is retained on at at-will basis, they are no longer entitled to the state minimum salary. As a result, educators must be very careful to keep their certificate valid and up to date.

Title 2 of the Texas Education Code provides teachers from unsafe work environments. Each district must have a code of conduct for students, and the code must include criteria that teachers can use to remove a student from the classroom if that student continually interferes with the teacher's ability to teach, or if the student is a threat to the teacher or other students. At that point, at the determination of the principal, the student who was removed can be placed in another class, in an in school suspension class, or at an alternative campus.

Finally, all teachers are entitled to 450 minutes of planning time for each 2 week period, and to a 30 minute lunch break per school day that is duty-free. In extreme circumstances, teachers may be required to supervise students one school day per week during lunch. In schools that use block scheduling, teachers may have a 90 minute break every other school day. In traditional schedules, teachers have a 45 minute planning period per school day.

Teachers should carefully review the Code of Ethics, Title 2 of the Education Code, and Title 19 of the Texas Administrative Code. It is also imperative for teachers to carefully review their contract and any documents their district provides them. Knowing rights and responsibilities can help new teachers keep their job and ensure they benefit from the protection the law provides them.