(I had a copy of this taped to my desk for 30 years. It helped me keep my sanity and know how to respond to bad leaders and other negative and controlling voices in my buildings:)
There is a kind of energy in our buildings that carries or implies that we in fact don’t have basic rights as teachers. Maybe it’s about pecking orders. Whatever, it’s insidious and we need to be able to recognize it and fight it, in order to protect our mental health.
One day about 30 years ago during another of what seemed to be an unending series of planning periods where I usually just sat at my desk making up worksheets, I found a piece of paper stuck behind a pile of old books in the back of a closet in my classroom. It was a faded copy of a “personal bill of rights” written by Edmund Bourne, Ph.D.
I taped it to my desk and started to read it every day. In fact, I have never stopped reading it, even now so many years later and living in Colorado and with a much healthier relationship with my profession.
I believe that Dr. Bourne’s list applies to all of us teachers and so I adopted it to read as it does below. If we can realize these rights in our personal lives and also learn to exercise them in our classroom, then I believe that we can build a more assertive attitude to being in a school building, and with it a much happier (and longer!) career.
Here is the list:
- I have the right to make reasonable requests from my administration and get them fulfilled.
- I have the right to say no to requests or demands that I can’t meet from my supervisors, counselors, parents and students.
- I have the right to express all of my feelings, positive or negative, to certain people in my building whom I trust.
- I have the right to change my mind if I notice that something I’ve agreed to do is not working.
- I have the right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect for observers.
- I have the right to follow my own standards of what is acceptable in my classroom.
- I have the right to raise my expectations of students to a level that is consistent with my own inner standards of proper decorum in my classroom.
- I have the right to say no to any request from anyone in my building when I feel I am not ready, it is unsafe, or violates my values.
- I have the right to determine my own priorities in my instruction, and not be forced to align with what others think is best for my students.
- I have the right not to be responsible for others’ behavior, actions, feelings, or problems, especially students.
- I have the right to expect honesty from everyone in my building.
- I have the right to be angry at anyone in my building and to express that anger, after a cool-down period of a few days, in a calm and reasonable conversation with them.
- I have the right to be uniquely myself and to teach in a way that I feel is best for me and my students, irrespective of what others may tell me.
- I have the right to feel scared and inwardly say “I’m scared” at anytime during class or in some meeting.
- I have the right to say “I don’t know” to any question I might get in my building.
- I have the right not to give excuses or reasons for my behavior.
- I have the right to make professional decisions based on my feelings.
- I have the right to my own needs for personal space and time in my building.
- I have the right to be playful and frivolous in class.
- I have the right to be healthier than those around me.
- I have the right to be in a non-abusive professional environment.
- I have the right to make friends and be comfortable around people whom I trust in my building.
- I have the right to change and grow, and to not be in a big hurry to do that.
- I have the right to have my needs and wants respected by others in my building.
- I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect by all those I work with.
- I have the right to be happy during my school day.