The end of the school year is near. Your principal approaches you to inform that you will be teaching the same grade next year but in a different classroom down the hall, and that you will be required to move all of your classroom’s contents, including some furniture, to this new classroom. What do you do?
First, whether it is about moving classroom contents to another room or any other task that you are directed to do, it is generally good advice to speak with your principal about any of your concerns. Often, the situation can be resolved by engaging in a professional dialogue with your principal in which you respectfully raise your concerns, and working with your principal to find a creative solution to the problem that focuses on meeting everyone’s interests. Don’t hesitate to contact the Association’s Teacher Employment Services (TES) for strategies that can assist with this.
Regarding your obligations, a teacher’s statutory duties are found in section 196 of the Education Act, and they generally include such duties as instructing students in the appropriate programs of study, encouraging and fostering learning in students, regularly assessing students and reporting the results to students, parents, and the board, and maintaining order and discipline among students. However, one broad additional statutory obligation on teachers is
196(1) A teacher, while providing instruction or supervision must
(g) subject to any applicable collective agreement and the teacher’s contract of employment, carry out the duties that are assigned to the teacher by the principal or the board.
Would a teacher’s obligations under section 196(1)(g) apply to a teacher being directed to physically move the contents of their classroom to another space?
To answer this question, there are some important considerations. As moving a classroom’s contents including furniture is not, strictly speaking, an instructional duty, who is the correct person to perform this task? Are the items you are being asked to move owned by you, or by the school division? How large or heavy are the items? Is it possible to move the items safely with no risk of injury to yourself or others? Are there any medical reasons that would preclude you from moving these items?
As mentioned earlier, section 196 of the Education Act outlines a teacher’s statutory obligations, and these are generally instructional in nature. Because moving classroom contents including furniture is not an instructional duty, it would normally not be the responsibility of a teacher. In fact, the task of moving furniture and other items may even be explicitly articulated in the allocation of duties of a different group of employees, such as caretakers. If these employees are unionized, by performing their duties you may unintentionally be taking work away from another bargaining unit.
Another important factor to consider is ownership of the items. If you are being asked to move furniture or large items that are owned by the school division, then, as mentioned above, there is an argument that you are not responsible to move those items given that it is not an instructional duty. However, if the items that you are being directed to move are your personal property that you purchased (without being reimbursed) and brought to your classroom, it is not the responsibility of the school division to move those items.
If moving items is not the work of another bargaining unit and you agree to move school division-owned items to your new classroom, safety is critical. How large or heavy are the items? Can you carry them by yourself? If not, is there someone available to assist you? Is there any equipment that is being made available to you, such as a dolly? Have you highlighted any hazards to your principal and, if so, have any hazard controls been put in place? Be sure to highlight any OH&S issues to your principal to ensure that you can safely move these items without risk of injury to yourself or others.
Additionally, depending on your individual medical situation, you may not be able to physically move heavy items. If you are directed to move items to your new classroom and you have concerns about physically being able to do so, raise those concerns with your principal to explore alternative options. It may be necessary for you to see your doctor for advice, and if your doctor feels it is necessary to put medical restrictions on your duties, your doctor should be willing to write you a note indicating what functional limitations you have on the duties that you can perform.
Most conflicts can be resolved with respectful discussion with your principal. Address any concerns about this or any other directive with them to find an informal solution first. If this turns out to be unsuccessful, it may be advisable to formally protest this directive in writing.
This is a complex issue, and much of the related advice is nuanced and situational. If you have any questions about this matter, call TES for advice for advice that is specific to your circumstances.
Moving classrooms can raise some important issues regarding your rights and obligations—call Teacher Employment Services at 1-800-232-7208 for assistance. #WEAREATA
Please note that our office will be closed from June 29, 2022 at noon and will reopen at 8:30 am on August 22, 2022