For harried teachers, a semester in a class by itself WINTER OF '94

February 12, 1994|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Anne Haddad, Suzanne Loudermilk, Mary Maushard, Sherrie Ruhl, Alisa Samuels and Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

The best-laid lesson plans of teachers and professors don't often go astray, but this winter's interruptions are forcing instructors to revise lesson plans again and again.

Yesterday, "the lost semester" lost another day, and teachers from public schools to private schools, from first grade through graduate school, retrenched and regrouped.

"I'm ready to scream," said Rebecca Fitzgerald, who teaches music, band and math at Harford Technical High School in Bel Air. "I find myself saying to the students, 'When we come to school every day, we'll. . . .' "

The State Board of Education insists that the school calendar must run the required minimum of 180 days, but the promise of additional days in June provides little solace to teachers who chart their lessons well in advance and now find them derailed.

"I could look in my plan book for last year and I could say I'm about a week and a half behind," said Elaine Berry, a Sparrows Point High School English teacher. "Obviously, you are going to be behind."

For many teachers, the problems began with January's first icy assault, which closed down most area schools the entire week of Jan. 17.

First, Virginia Crespo, a social studies teacher at Broadneck Senior High School in Cape St. Claire, postponed the state citizenship test, for which her students had prepared all last semester. Then she crammed the Treaty of Versailles, the end of World War I and review for exams into one day. The two-hour tests became two days of one-hour tests.

By contrast, this semester didn't look so bad -- at first. After school was canceled Wednesday and Thursday this week, Ms. Crespo figured she could move a lecture on jazz up to yesterday, then do her unit on the Ku Klux Klan next week.

"I can't do it in one day," said the teacher, who didn't want the weekend to interrupt the lesson's flow. But school was called off again yesterday, and she had to figure out yet another contingency plan.

Other teachers find that they must review material forgotten during the unplanned breaks, putting them further behind.

Donna Streagle, a first-grade teacher at Northfield Elementary School in Ellicott City, said that the unpredictable schedule keeps her students from practicing their new reading skills.

"It's very hard, particularly in first grade," she said. "You lose the continuity."

Sandra Fish, a math teacher at Loyola High School, said that parts of the curriculum can be eliminated with little or no effect.

"Some topics are cute, clever, but you can still survive the course without that particular topic," she said. "Scientific notation, for example. The full scope of Algebra II can be done and understood without ever seeing scientific notation."

But she worries that even with a flexible syllabus, the repercussions of this winter will continue to be felt next fall, when students move on to new courses and find that they did not master old skills under the compressed schedule.

L Some teachers said late days are worse than the missed ones.

"There's no consistency when there are two-hour delays," said Pat Robinette, a second-grade teacher at Magnolia Elementary School in Joppa. "We have reading one day, math another day."

Students are frustrated, too. "With 20-minute classes, you can't get anything accomplished," said Darlene J. Papier, a Fallston High School senior.

Jessica Steelberg, a Westminster High School senior, said that calculus is tough enough without an erratic schedule.

Colleges and universities, whose classes typically meet less often than those in secondary schools, may find it easier to make up for the lost time.

Joseph Shalika, a professor in the math department at the Johns Hopkins University, said teachers there could always extend classes into the "reading period" before exams or use less class time for review.

At Hernwood Elementary School in Baltimore County, Anita Rozenel has decided not to let the calendar rule her classroom.

"As a teacher, I feel a little bit frustrated," she said. "I have things I want to do with my kids. But I don't feel personally behind because I will accomplish what I want to do. Skills are something we can deal with. Timeliness is not."

So, if the children learn their Valentine's songs after the day itself, and if the lesson on Abraham Lincoln comes after his birthday today, Ms. Rozenel figures life will go on.

"I'll be teaching Abraham Lincoln in April," she said.

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