Special-area teachers fret about planning time

August 22, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Art, music, physical education and media teachers in the county's elementary schools are worried that their needs are getting lost in discussions designed to find planning time for regular classroom teachers.

These so-called special-area teachers say that they are being asked to carry an unfair burden as school administrators, teachers and parents wrestle with the issue of how to make up for the eight half-days of planning time regular teachers lost when the school board voted to eliminate them in last April.

Having to prove that special-area classes require just as much work and planning as regular classes is a "constant irritant," said Linda Milano, the art teacher for Jarrettsville Elementary.

"Harford County had finally gotten to the point where they recognized the need to have art in every elementary school, and now we lose our planning time," she said.

The school system budget for the school year that begins Aug. 30 includes money to hire 16 additional art teachers so that all elementaries can offer art education.

Art classes teach children how to follow directions and how to identify shapes, two skills they need for reading and writing and math.

Special-area teachers lost the same eight half-days that regular classroom teachers did. But, special-area teachers say, they are being left out of the process even as administrators, teachers and parents consider ways to make up the time.

"Our concern is that in the rush to find planning time for classroom teachers, schools are forgetting that special-area teachers need planning time too," said Jean R. Thomas, president of the Harford County Education Association, the teachers' union. She said that some of the solutions offered to find planning time hinge on special-area teachers carrying an unfair burden.

One idea is to have special-area teachers show films, or develop other programs, for students while the classroom teachers hold planning sessions. Another proposal has special-area teachers watching children before the school day starts, freeing up the regular teachers.

Christine Haggett, one of two physical education teachers at Ring Factory Elementary in Bel Air, said that special-area teachers need their own planning time because they have a curriculum with skills they must teach their students.

"Yes, physical education is supposed to be fun, but we are also teaching children basic skills, including cardiovascular skills, which will keep them healthy as they grow older," she said.

Ms. Haggett said that special-area teachers are already called on at many schools to supervise children when they get on and off buses.

She said she also needs time before school starts to get ready for the students. "If I have to watch children from 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., I have to come in still earlier to set up my equipment so my classes can begin on time," she said.

Special-area teachers are also supposed to work with the classroom teacher to reinforce what the children are learning.

Ms. Haggett said that last year, when she taught one day a week at Prospect Mill Elementary in Bel Air, she worked with kindergarten teachers to develop lessons that emphasised the classroom learning.

"If the kindergarten teacher told me she was teaching numbers, then I used games that included numbers. If she told me she was teaching colors, I used games that used colors," she said.

Giving the children the same information but in different settings and different ways helped them learn faster and remember the information longer, she said.

Hallie Kelly, a media specialist at William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary in Abingdon, said that integrating lessons does help children learn. She worries about how she will be able to tailor her weekly lessons to mirror what children are learning in the classroom. In the past, she used the eight half-days to meet with classroom teachers to find ways to fit library resources -- everything from fiction books to research materials -- into the lesson plan.

"If a second-grade teacher is doing a unit on planets, for example, I can read those children a story on planets and maybe use this as an opportunity to introduce them to encyclopedias or show them where the nonfiction books are," she said.

Without common planning time, that sort of coordination won't happen, Mrs. Kelly said.

Kathy Carmello, who is chairing a committee on teacher planning time, said her group of teachers, parents and teacher union officials is committed to finding a plan that will work for all elementary school teachers, including special-area teachers.

The committee, which has met twice, has the blessings of the teachers' union, the HCEA and the Harford County Council of PTAs. Mrs. Carmello said that the committee will present its solutions to the school system, possibly in October.

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