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A Q&A on your contractual rights

Here are some of the questions members have asked at meetings. The answers should help you understand your rights and responsibilities.

Q: HOW DO I KNOW WHETHER I’M DOING WELL?

A: At the end of each school year, your principal gives you a rating. It will reflect an evaluation decided with your speech supervisor. Unless you have received unsatisfactory observation reports or letters for your file, you should receive a satisfactory rating for the year. If you have been getting poor ratings on observations or other matters, you should have already met with your chapter leader to discuss possible remedies.

An "unsatisfactory" rating should be delivered to you 10 days before the school year ends. At that point, your options depend on your status. Immediately contact a U-rating Advocate at your nearest UFT borough office and also call the speech chapter hotline.

Q: WHAT ARE THE RULES REGARDING ABSENCES?

A: You earn one sick day each month, and you can use up to 10 sick days a year, including three for personal business, if the principal approves in advance. Your sick days can be self-treated, and a doctor's note is not required for an illness of 10 days or less.

Any sick days that you do not use accumulate in your Cumulative Absence Reserve (CAR) for future use.

New speech providers should use sick days sparingly. As part of the tenure process, principals often review your absences and lateness records to make sure that students are getting their related services and that the absences aren’t excessive.

Q: CAN ABSENCE OR LATENESS BE A FACTOR IN MY RATINGS?

A: If you are ill, you have a right to stay home, and your absence should not be used against you.

However, principals have been known to use poor attendance or a pattern of absences before and after holidays and weekends as a factor in rating staff members. (Lateness due to weather or traffic is usually excused, but a pattern of lateness can raise questions and can result in your losing a part of a day's pay.) If a principal thinks a teacher's record of attendance or lateness may lead to a U-rating, he or she should send a warning letter.

Q: CAN A WARNING LETTER GO INTO MY FILE WITHOUT MY KNOWLEDGE?

A: No. Your file should contain only those items with your signature, which proves you have seen the material. Your signature is not a concession that any allegations in the letter are true. If you receive a warning letter that does not ask for your signature, then it cannot be put in your file.

You have the right to examine your file at any time, with a day's advance notice to the school secretary or principal. You are also entitled to free copies of the file’s contents. If your file contains unsigned items, including those that could be used for disciplinary purposes, see your school chapter leader or contact the Speech Teacher hotline. You may decide to file a grievance to remove such improper materials.

To sum up: Nothing may be put in your file without your knowledge and signature.

Q: BESIDES LETTERS, WHAT ELSE ORDINARILY GOES INTO MY FILE?

A: Observation reports are among the key items that go into your file. As a speech teacher, your speech supervisor writes the observation report after watching you at work with your students. In a collaborative, professional relationship, your supervisor lets you know in advance when an observation will take place though this is not required.

You should ask for a lesson specific pre-observation conference and may use that meeting to clarify what the supervisor expects. After the observation, your supervisor should give you a post-observation conference with you to go over your lesson's strengths and weaknesses.

Later, when you receive your observation report, sign it - even if you do not agree with it - to acknowledge that you have seen it before it goes into your file.

Q: WHAT IF MY OBSERVATION REPORT IS NEGATIVE?

A: Not every supervisor knows how to encourage new teachers, especially those who need of lots of support, so if you’re new, be prepared to receive a share of negative comments.

However, the bottom line is this: If a lesson is "satisfactory," even with negative comments, it is still considered "satisfactory." A report with no rating or something vague like "doubtful" is technically incorrect. Call the chapter hotline if you get an "unsatisfactory" or questionable rating on an observation, and then send us a copy to discuss it.

Q: WHAT IF I DISAGREE WITH THE OBSERVATION REPORT?

A: That depends. The main thing is: Don't do anything in haste! You have the right to grieve an observation report or respond to it within 30 working days. If you want to state your point of view without challenging the rating, you may decide to respond in a letter. Your letter is attached to the observation and placed in your file. Your supervisor cannot respond to your letter.

However, before you respond, call us so we can review your response letter and determine if any of your rights were violated.