Teachers, education leaders: profanity, political mandates not necessary - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Teachers, education leaders: profanity, political mandates not necessary

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Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2012 7:34 am | Updated: 1:32 pm, Wed Feb 22, 2012.

Arizona lawmakers want to mandate that teachers can't curse in the classroom or influence how future voters make decisions at the polls.

But really, teachers and education leaders say, those policies are already in place.

"I don't know where the train left the track that's leading into more suspicions that's being written into policy that teachers are on the brink of unethical conduct. That's really ridiculous," said Andrew Morrill, president of the state's largest teachers union, the Arizona Education Association.

SB 1205 would penalize teachers who use language that violates the same standards set up for television and radio broadcasts by the Federal Communications Commission. The Senate Committee on Government Reform approved the measure Wednesday. After two warnings, according to the bill, a third incident would mandate a teacher's firing.

The same committee approved SB 1202 that says teachers can be fired and their schools lose funding if they promote "partisan doctrine" during lessons or use partisan books. The bill would apply to all public schools, district and charter.

In the case of both bills, the language is somewhat vague as to what constitutes profanity and what is considered "partisan doctrine," opponents say.

Mesa teacher Jill Benza said Friday that when she first heard about the "partisan doctrine" bill she thought, "How am I going to teach American government?" After reading through it again, she saw a problem.

"What is it they're wanting us to not do? We have district policy in Mesa about how we can't promote one party or candidate or one issue. I work really hard to make it balanced," she said.

Benza, a 12-year educator, instructs students in Advanced Placement government at Skyline High School. She is also coach of the school's We the People team, which studies Constitutional law.

Morrill echoed Benza's concerns, and then pointed out other issues with the bill.

Morrill taught English for 17 years. He said teachers want their students to have strong dialogues, form opinions, and participate in "complex conversations" about what they read.

"When you study English literature, political science, history, social studies, you're studying the human sciences if you will. Human beings operate in complex ways. When you want to demonstrate that - the recurring, deep, philosophical dilemmas man has always wrestled with in literature or great art - you walk down some hallways of real intense discussions," he said.

Morrill raised concern that when students do draft their own opinions, and the proponents of this bill disagree with those ideas, teachers will get into trouble.

"There really is not clarity of this law to make it at all helpful in the field. There are already state and district level guidelines for appropriate teacher conduct. That includes the way teachers interact with students. There's already a wide industry understanding across the classrooms of Arizona that you don't try to indoctrinate your students into a way of thinking," Morrill said.

But possible indoctrination was the reason behind the bill.

Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem, told Capitol Media Services that she has received complaints about "political indoctrination in the classroom." Klein is a sponsor of the bill.

Regarding profanity, that issue is, again, already in district policies, Morrill said.

Skyline principal Steve Green backed that up, saying Mesa Unified School District includes language in its teacher conduct policy about profanity.

"I think our teachers are doing a pretty good job. Are we perfect? No. But I think our teachers use good professionalism in their classrooms," he said. "Cursing would violate those policies and when that happens, we would address it as appropriate."

Green said that as a consumer outside the school, he knows profanity can happen in workplaces. But he noted: "I think teachers are different in that they're the role model. Unfortunately, cursing happens too much in society. I think it's appropriate we have that professional conduct clause."

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