Why Not? Because It's Not in My Contract

03/14/2011 08:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Our society thrives on buzz words and buzz phrases; so too does the education world. I constantly hear those around me -- who are apparently smarter than me -- say words like trajectory, continuum or capacity building for continued sustainability, yet there is one phrase that, in the words of Peter Griffin, "really grinds my gears". That phrase is -- "It's not in my contract."

To me, the sound of that phrase is akin to the sound of someone's nails grinding across a chalkboard, and I hear that grinding sound often from the teachers and also from some of the administrators in my building. Apparently, it is the answer of choice to any question with the audacity to demand that a teacher go beyond their scope of responsibilities, and do something that will help the flow of the school day. A teacher pissed at being assigned cafeteria duty during student lunches (for only one period) said to me one day that the fact that she had to monitor lunch was ridiculous and she was going to complain about it because, "It is not in my contract." Her complaining, along with the complaints of some other teachers, resulted in the removal of all teachers from cafeteria duty all together.

I walk into school each day and before I can sit down, my principal asks me to monitor the hallways. I monitor these hallways every day and see no teachers. Finally, I decided to ask my principal, "Why aren't the teachers joining us in monitoring the hallways?"

She answered, "I cannot make them do that because it is not in their contract; they start each day at 8:30." I reasoned that because my contract is an administrative one and I start each day at 8 a.m., it's perfectly okay to ask me to monitor one of our hallway units. Throw in the fact that I don't have the teachers union to run to if I feel like I am asked to do something that is not in my contract, and I am a sight for sore eyes each day I walk into the school.

Does it sound like some complaining on my end? I am sure it does, but my complaint does not lie in the fact that I am asked to help with a task that is not in my contract; rather, that it's understood not to ask the teachers to assist with any non-contractual duties, unless it has to do with teaching and there is a stipend attached. This problem isn't simply limited to teachers -- administrators suffer from this syndrome also.

I know that I am only a few years removed from high school, but I remember the teachers in my school having to put up with a lot of crap from their administration... they talked about it constantly, even around us students. Yet it was the teacher's responsibility to make sure the halls were cleared during the day, and they also monitored lunch. Whether or not it was actually in the contract of my high school teachers, they were on the front lines, maintaining order throughout the school day. It was through their monitoring that I and other students actually interacted with them. Such interactions prompted me to take it upon myself to feel out those teachers -- some I liked, others I disliked and others I couldn't stand. The teachers had their favorites as well, but the collegiality between teachers and students couldn't have existed if my teachers had leveraged their way to stay in isolation with the exception of teaching in the classroom.

I know my school isn't the only one where the modus operandi is "if it is not in my contract, don't ask me to do it." Yet the justification of "it's not in my contract" is not good enough. I am sure that there are times when administrators and districts ask teachers to do the humanly impossible. But when confronted with a task that is humanly possible that requires just a bit of effort and liveliness, teachers ought to just grin and bear it because, although the task may be annoying or "beneath you," it might be that your assistance is required. In just about every other place of work, employees are asked to do things that are not in their job descriptions. As a teacher, you are a part of a school community and it takes the entire community -- teachers, students, administrators, and parents -- to make that community function and flow in harmony. The phrase, "it's not in my contract," doesn't sound like a harmonic flow to me.