Overworked and underpaid - it is the unwritten addendum to every public school teacher's contract.
But the workload increase created by the ambitious achievement goals of Howard County schools Superintendent John R. O'Rourke has got some teachers saying that they just might be pushed over the edge.
"The school system is heading to a dangerous impasse if they don't wake up and take a look at what they're expecting us to do," said Nancy Mosedale, a fourth-grade teacher at Guilford Elementary.
"Somewhere down the line, there's going to be a mass exodus or call for work-to-rule or young teachers saying, `This is for the birds. I'm out of here, I have a life.'"
Mosedale teaches at one of the eight lower-performing elementary schools identified by the school system as needing extra attention, which means extra work for teachers.
In addition to their regular duties, teachers are being asked to create individual improvement plans for struggling pupils, to deliver data and to meet more often with administrators.
They have also been asked generally to do what some call the impossible: bring all children up to state performance standards by 2005 and close the achievement gap among racial subgroups by 2007, which O'Rourke has promised.
Five middle schools and two high schools are also targeted by the accelerated achievement plans.
"Teachers in the county agree that we must move student achievement forward," said Howard County Education Association President Joe Staub. "But to do that takes additional planning and preparation time. Where do you get that time? It comes from one of two places: You take time away from planning to do data analysis and grading of quarterly assessments or you do it beyond the school day."
Robert Glascock, an assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum and instruction, said the school system is doing what it can to help teachers at these schools.
They've been given laptops and reading and math specialists. Also, health instructors were assigned with the object of freeing a period for teachers. The central office is also looking into additional compensation for extra labor and extending the next school year to add more teacher work days.
But tired teachers say the laptops come with an implication that they are supposed to work from home. They argue that the math and reading specialists - while being excellent resources - take up more of the teachers' time; and that the freed-up health period is not being used to plan but for more meetings.
"There are a lot of people dreaming up these great things in the central office, but they don't have anyone sitting down and doing a feasibility study to determine what it takes to get them done," said Tim Morris, a sixth-grade science teacher at Patuxent Valley Middle School. "I don't think they understand the magnitude of what they're asking."
This is the first year that middle schools have been required to put together pupil-support plans in math and reading for struggling children. Elementary schools have been doing it for several years.
According to assessment criteria analyzed in September, Patuxent Valley could have had as many as 400 plans - with some overlap in math and reading pupils. The number overwhelmed teachers.
Sterlind S. Burke, Patuxent's principal, said he stopped the project and told teachers to create plans for only the most needy pupils. He said that after a semester of working with the children, he expects the number of eligible plans to be much lower and more manageable.
Teacher salaries in Howard County range from $33,106 for new teachers to $72,966 for those with doctorates and 31 or more years of experience. Their contracts stipulate a seven-hour-and-35-minute workday, but most work much more.
"The reality for teaching as a profession is that in order to do a good job, it's beyond the contract day," Glascock said.
Most teachers accept that, but adding more and more tasks without removing any is pushing some to the breaking point, they say.
"If I were to really work the hours I'm getting paid to work, there's no way I could get everything done," Mosedale said. "But they're just adding, adding, adding, and the straw is eventually going to break this camel's back."
Mosedale said that she will apply for a transfer this year if things do not improve.
Though no evidence exists suggesting a mass exodus, some are worried it is on the horizon.
"It's a very legitimate concern," Staub said. "Teachers are at a frustration point, and it's only going to build as the year goes on."
Glascock said a transfer would not do anyone any good, because national initiatives, such as the No Child Left Behind Act, are tightening requirements across the country.
`Message of reform'
"It doesn't matter whether you're in Arkansas or Alaska," he said. "This is the message of reform for the 21st century."
School board member Patricia S. Gordon said teachers need to give the new programs a chance. After a time they will become more comfortable, the work will flow more smoothly and the meeting time required to implement new procedures will lessen.
"Every new system requires some time to work out the kinks," Gordon said.
Remedies suggested by teachers and Staub include overtime pay, hiring more teachers and reducing paperwork, but all of those cost money the system is unlikely to get.
"[Central office staff members] really are taking a hard look at all of the kids, and that is good," Mosedale said. "The workload has morale down, and that's bad. We want to do our best, but we're just not given the time to do it."