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Virginia Journal of Education

Your Classroom

Cautionary tunes:
You Ain't Just
Whistling Dixie

by Dena Rosenkrantz

Here in VEA Legal Services, we often sing while we work. There are, however, some theme songs we'd rather not hear educators singing. Try using these tunes as common sense reminders (with apologies to the composers, lyricists and performers):

"Baby You Can Drive My Car": Are you employed to drive a school vehicle? Make sure you keep your driver's license current. Obey the rules of the road at all times. If your school job involves driving, a ticket or accident behind the wheel of your personal vehicle could affect your license and cost you your position. Even school jobs that do not require driving can be affected by off-duty traffic charges: Law enforcement officials notify school officials if a school employee is arrested.

Also, VEA recommends that you not drive students in your personal vehicle without a written order from your supervisor. Accidents happen to even the most careful driver and being alone in a car with a student or students makes you vulnerable to accusations of inappropriate behavior or speech.

"Pennies from Heaven": Even small amounts of money can have huge significance for your school job. Make sure you record all funds received and disbursed, and promptly turn in records and funds. Keep school money separate from your own. Don't borrow or use school money even for a short time. Using petty cash to buy lunch with plans to return the money after you visit the bank could be grounds for a criminal charge. Even grants or checks made out to you may be considered school funds that you have to turn in, not cash for yourself.

"Let's Give Them Something to Talk About" or "I Think We're Alone Now": Avoid being alone with a student. Leave the door open and the window clear. Remember that other people can see and hear your interactions with students; consider how they will understand the scene. Avoid singling out a student for excessive encouragement or rewards-this can be misinterpreted. We understand that some teachers, especially those of young elementary students, sometimes feel compelled to hug students, but use extreme care.

"Do You Want to Hear a Secret?": No school employee, not even a guidance counselor, is allowed to keep a student confidence. State law requires school employees to report suspected child abuse. Licensed instructional and administrative personnel must notify a student's parent of any communication giving reason to believe the student is suicidal. Don't invite students to share personal information with you, but be prepared and follow up when a student does confide in you. You may have to pass the information on to school colleagues and document that action. In the opposite direction, be careful what you let your students know about your personal life. Here again, you may think you are encouraging or supporting the student, but others may think you are sharing too much information.

"When I'm 64": You are surrounded by young people and feel young at heart. But school is your job and you cannot behave like one of the kids. Joking, teasing, gossiping, and flirting with your students can lead to trouble. Your judgment that a student "can take it" or "enjoys the attention" could be misplaced. "Groundhog Day" is a movie title, not a song, but think about how it applies to your work. You get older but the students you work with each year don't. Maybe you learn from the repetition and do things better each year. But you must also consider that your students may react differently because you look and sound different than you used to. Behavior that students loved early in your career may have different impact years later; update your routine and wardrobe.

"A Whole New World": There's a whole new world of potential trouble out there: electronic communication. Keep in mind that any e-mail you send or receive on your school computer, or any website you visit, can be visible to your employer. Exchanging e-mail messages with students should be limited to school work and grades. Send appropriate professional messages from school rather than home/personal address, or set up a separate address for your school messages to maintain your privacy. And avoid communicating with students by text message.

Rosenkrantz is a VEA staff attorney and Legal Services Director.

VEA Names Winners
Of 2007-08 Grants

The second round of winners of 2007-08 VEA Mini-Grants has been announced, with each winner receiving either $1,000 or $500 to fund an innovative classroom project. The winners are:

. Sarah Crizer of the Charlotte County Education Association and Eureka Elementary School, for "Community Carolers."
. Sarah Patton of the Covington Education Association and Jeter Watson Elementary School, for "Reading is Magic."
. Maria Rodriguez Marchany of the Fairfax Education Association and Fort Belvoir Elementary School, for "Students are Authors, Too!"
. Michele Copeland of the Loudoun Education Association and Potowmack Elementary School, for "Eagle Anthology."
. Kim Beuerle of the Lynchburg Education Association and Robert S. Payne Elementary School, for "Mini-Society."
. Maria Sarahan of the Richmond Education Association and Huguenot High School, for "Learning Sign Language: Building Bridges in Communication."

Deadline for 2008-09 Mini-Grant applications is June 13, 2008. Visit the VEA website at for more information.

When Your School
Faces a Crisis

NEA's Health Information Network (NEA HIN) has a ready resource to help your school before, during and after a crisis. It's the newly-updated Schools Crisis Guide: Help and Healing in a Time of Crisis. The new guide was rewritten after such events as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the shootings at Virginia Tech, and incorporates some of the lessons learned from those disasters.

In addition to the 46-page paper edition, the Guide is also available for download on the HEA HIN website at . The online version includes many of the tools, such as templates, websites and talking points, that help school staff members effectively manage a crisis.

Paper copies of the Guide are available through NEA's Professional Library at .



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