Teachers have trouble getting free time Union has received complaints about policy violations

October 19, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Martha Gardner, who teaches fourth grade at Belvedere Elementary School in Arnold, spent an hour Friday morning phoning parents while waiting in line to make copies and rushing to the library to find mystery books for a new lesson.

Then she corrected spelling assignments, climbed onto a classroom desk to rehang a poster that had fallen, and tried to squeeze in writing a student progress report, hanging fables on walls and relaminating name tags. But before she could get to that, her time was up and she had to pick up her students from music class.

The hour is one of three each week that she and 4,600 other Anne Arundel teachers are allowed in uninterrupted blocks of at least 30 minutes -- a concession won by the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County in a contract negotiated in the summer.

While schools in nearby counties have similar requirements, only Anne Arundel has had significant problems recently. Only 39 days into the school year, more than two dozen teachers have complained to their union that principals are not honoring the provision.

The union has received four written complaints involving 12 teachers; handled two discussions between clashing teachers and principals; and received about a dozen telephone calls from teachers looking for more information on how to get the planning time they're supposed to have, according to union representative Bill Jones.

Jones would not give more details on the complaints, but he said each call "represents more than one faculty member. I really think the problem's broader than the phone calls indicate."

Previously, the contract gave teachers 5.8 hours of planning time each week, but principals did not have to mete out half of it in blocks, and some routinely called teachers out of planning time to attend meetings, monitor halls and cafeterias and have parent-teacher conferences -- without giving them back the time, according to union officials.

"Without having assigned minimum blocks, they are saying, 'Take 10 minutes before the start of the school day, another 15 minutes here and it all adds up to the total,' " said John R. Kurpjuweit, president of the teachers association. "The idea was to have them in blocks so they could actually do something."

If the planning-time provision isn't met, the union will seek compensatory time for teachers or additional pay equal to the teachers' hourly salary to make up for lost time. It will also seek schedule changes that lock in planning time if the contract is violated, union officials said.

Principals' views

At Belvedere, Principal Robert Kanach is grappling with the new rule. This year, he monitors the cafeteria two hours each school day to let teachers have more free time to plan with each other.

And instead of pulling teachers out of planning time so they can attend mandatory 20-minute meetings -- about, for example, whether a special education student should be placed in regular classes -- he takes the teacher out during class time for those meetings and has a guidance counselor or other faculty member take over for the teacher.

"It's workable, but it's taken a lot of that flexibility that we used to have out," he said. "We have to be more creative in how we have to plan."

Other county principals apparently have not been as creative, according to Donald M. Smith, administrator of the Association of Educational Leaders, a countywide principals' union in Arnold.

"I've not had a principal say to me at all, 'That's not a problem,' " he said. "It's like a federal law -- you make a rule, and then you don't give them any money to enforce it."

Too few supervisors

Smith said that if more adults were in school buildings, cafeteria and hall duty could be redistrib- uted so teachers wouldn't get pulled away from planning to monitor students.

"Maybe, as more grievances are processed, the school board will realize it's an unworkable situation," he said.

But other school systems with similar time requirements have made do.

"Occasionally there's a problem with something that has to be worked out, but it's not a major concern at all," said Mark Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. "I'm not aware of any grievances" in at least a year, he said, adding that Baltimore County teachers have 250 minutes a week to plan, with the same required blocks of no less than 30 minutes.

In Howard County, where teachers get at least 200 minutes each week, schools found this remedy: They hire monitors and teachers' assistants to take care of lunch and recess duty, so "the time [teachers] used to spend in the cafeteria and playground is now used for planning time," said Karen Dunlop, president of the Howard County Education Association.

Although the Anne Arundel school system has not gone that far, Gardner, the Arnold teacher, said the uninterrupted planning time still improves her day.

"Typically, I try to get anything done here that I can't do at home," she said.

She can make phone calls to school system administrators and parents whose children need to bring in emergency contact forms, copy permission slips for a field trip and make corrections to spelling tests in peace and quiet.

The new provision has not reduced the three hours she spends each night grading papers and writing lesson plans, but she sees the difference from last year, when planning time was at the mercy of faculty members who sought her out -- even while she took care of private business.

She said with a laugh: "We can now use the restrooms without fear of being hunted down by anyone."

Pub Date: 10/19/97

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