Article – What’s in Your Handbook2018-03-22T11:02:22+00:00

What’s in Your School Handbook?

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Few schools offer teaching candidates the opportunity to review school handbooks during recruiting conferences. I imagine, if you were to ask for one, a handbook would be made available. But, for the most part, teachers sign contracts not knowing the full implications of clauses such as, “refer to handbook for clarification”, or, “in the case of a dispute, the school handbook shall prevail”. I made the mistake of signing without seeing the school handbook before accepting a position in Africa. The $50 dollar monthly fee for using a school vehicle turned out to be $150, along with a number of other discrepancies. The director was sorry he had remembered wrong. I was sorry, too, and stuck.

Yes, I agree, prior to signing a contract it is the teacher’s responsibility to request any documents relating to the terms of employment. It is, however, one thing to sign a contract not having read the handbook (who’s fault is that?) and quite another to have read the handbook and be presented with a new, “up-dated” version upon arrival at your new school. This holds true for returning teachers who find themselves subject to handbook revisions made during summer vacation. This is truly an unethical situation and it does happen. 

ISR recommends you always see the school handbook before signing a contract, and when you do sign be sure to add that your contract is subject to the terms and conditions of the handbook in effect at the time of signing. Both you and the administrator must sign and date in recognition of this addition to the contract. Be sure to keep a copy of the contract and the handbook.

ISR recently received excerpts from the Fawzia Sultan School handbook. The submitter was quite upset about some surprise changes he/she felt were unfair, especially since they had a direct effect on teachers’ contracts. Not all of the examples below from the Fawzia Sultan handbook were surprise changes. Some were in effect at the time of signing and this teacher has shared with us how some handbook clauses can turn out quite to the contrary of their perceived meaning and warrant vigilant scrutiny.

Examples of Red Flags as seen in the Fawzia Sultan School Handbook
The submitter of this material claims some clauses were added during summer vacation.

In the Contracts Section 

2.3 When a non-Kuwaiti employee begins his/her employment at FSIS, every effort will be made to obtain a work permit/residency transfer for employment at FSIS within the legal system of the State of Kuwait.

In Reality (as explained by teacher)

Yes, this is a problem with the handbook. The school has to obtain the Visa and it usually is not in a timely manner. I was told a teacher that came from another school last year (part way through the year — breaking contract with a terrible school in Kuwait) was put in jail part of Christmas and January. He was “hiding out”. Even after that was resolved, the school had still not applied for a civil ID for him as late as May!!! He had been assured that his visa was pending at the Ministry of Education. By the way, to my knowledge he still doesn’t have one for this year either. None of the “new” teachers do yet. However, I know of another person who left the school and changed jobs and he had his civil ID in 8 days. One gets a visitor’s visa to enter Kuwait and then must apply for a civil ID.

ISR Advises

Nebulous terms such as “every effort” and “timely fashion” should be clearly defined. You may also want to know what responsibility the school will take for your well being should a visa delay occur through no fault of your own. 
_________

In the Professional Responsibilities section

3. In relation to students the staff member does not socialize with students or (FSIS parents) outside school hours or the school setting.

In Reality

Some people objected to the ban on socializing with students and their parents. Most of us have just quietly not adhered to this edict. We were told to only make calls from school telephones if we needed to make a phone call to a parent. This was “for our protection” as we were told we would be called “at all hours”.
__________

In the Censorship section (this is a partial list)

• Israel must be marked off all maps as well as the Persian Gulf changed to Arabian Gulf
• Concentrating on the attempted extermination of Jews during the Nazi era while neglecting the pillage    and torture inflicted upon other peoples and countries
• Israel: present or past
• Jewish authors
• Kissing or holding hands; dating between boy and girl
• Mohammed “fleeing” or “escaping” to Mecca is banned
• Crusades were for the purpose of destroying and looting
• Mohammed being illiterate is banned
• One must not discuss evolution, even as a theory
• Jesus cannot be a Jew

In Reality

Our school has a number of censorship guidelines in regards to what can and cannot be taught in the classroom. When it comes to rewriting history I have to put my foot down, firmly. I have included the most objectionable of the entries in our new handbook. I know that the parents quietly went to the library to read and censor books the PTA had purchased for each classroom.
__________ 

In the Violations Concerning School Discipline section

Attacking superiors and/or the owner of the school either by word or deed. Harming the school’s reputation by either word or deed. Consequences: Immediate dismissal without notification or compensation, including all benefits or indemnity.

In Reality

We can be fired for posting to the ISR web site or simply speaking our mind. I will be fired if the school can figure out who sent this information to ISR.

ISR Advises

More than one schools’ mission statement makes reference to “creating, thinking, contributing, global citizens”. In reality they prefer their teachers not practice these ideals on campus. Reading ISR reviews can fill you in on how constructive criticism will be accepted.
__________

In the Grievance Procedure section

Please follow the procedures below in order to resolve issues quickly and efficiently…..

In Reality

There is a grievance procedure, but none if you have a problem with the Director. The procedure is also very tenuous concerning a grievance with the principal. With the climate here, it is difficult. Everyone here knows about the group who went to the Board last year. It was a big mistake for the ones who did.
__________

In the Length of Calendar Year section

The school has taken the liberty to change this section and add additional working days for various teachers. I do not have a copy of the old handbook before the changes.

In Reality

Certain teachers, as needed by the school, had the number of required teaching/work days extended up to as much as 6 days. The answer from the administration was that it is within the contract time of Sept. 1 of one year to August 31 of the next. The worst part is that this was added after returning teachers had left for the summer.

Obviously, school handbooks are powerful tools that can work for and against teachers, depending on how they are used. As with any offer of employment, the terms should be scrutinized carefully and all documentation to which a contract is subject should be reviewed prior to signing. If any clause in the handbook is found to be objectionable, discuss it with the director. Ask to change it in your case. For example, if the school is not an IB school and you are strong on IB and want to take advantage of an out-of-country inservice, you’ll want to get a clause added to your contract stating the school will allow for this. Some points will be easy to negotiate and even accept as is. Failure to reach an agreement with the director may mean turning down a job.

ISR recommends that unless already included in the contract, you write in a clause noting that your contract is subject to the terms outlined in the handbook in effect at the time of signing. Then request that a copy of the handbook be attached to both copies of your contract. Be sure both you and the school director sign and initial any contract insertions on both copies. This would be a good practice for anything else verbally promised at the conference and not in writing within your contract.

Business is business, and just because you have a great feeling about the director who is interviewing you at the conference, remember…everyone’s in their Sunday best and you haven’t met the board, yet. Hindsight is 20/20. Better to use a little foresight and be safe.