Council submits ideas to improve working conditions of district teachers

Proposals include more time to plan, payment for meetings

Carroll County

February 22, 2005|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

Providing teachers more planning time, compensating them for attending additional meetings and maintaining a reliable computer system are among the suggestions that a group of educators will propose to Carroll County's school board tomorrow in an effort to improve working conditions.

In response to a growing chorus of complaints that teachers were being asked to do too much with too little time and resources, Superintendent Charles I. Ecker gathered 17 award-winning educators to find solutions.

The Teachers Advisory Council, made up of elementary, middle and high school teachers, has held several daylong sessions since April, sorting out what the educators should be doing and which of their duties are unnecessary.

"He was looking for recommendations from teachers in the classroom," said Barry Gelsinger, director of the district's state and federal school improvement compliance, whom Ecker assigned to oversee the group. "We came up with recommendations that we would like the board to consider."

Before deciding on things that could be done to reduce teacher workload, the group first determined what should be expected of teachers. The list included: communicate with parents and students; participate in meaningful staff development to improve their craft and skill; be positive role models; maintain high expectations and standards for student achievement; update and re-evaluate classroom materials and lessons; and create a positive, caring, safe environment conducive to learning.

The group then came up with options that the school system can consider to help teachers.

"Ecker said he understood the plate was too full for teachers," said Mary Kay Nevius-Maurer, chairwoman of the advisory council, who teaches English at Winters Mill High School in Westminster. "I told the group [that] people can complain, but if you don't offer solutions, what good are you?"

In drawing up the recommendations, the group first settled on a list of "critical issues," including: the introduction of too many new programs; encroachment on teacher planning time; an outdated computer system; lack of adequate time and pay for curriculum and instruction development; and requirements that teachers attend meetings that interfere with planning and teaching time.

In a 12-page report, the council suggested solutions, including: eliminate old programs when new ones are created; trust teachers to use planning time wisely by not adding new assignments and by not requiring them to document their time; update the county's computer infrastructure; contract outside computer experts to handle overload; provide professional time for teachers to complete clerical and administrative tasks; and pay teachers for attending meetings.

Teacher workload was a key issue during recent contract negotiations with the district's five bargaining units, representing more than 3,100 district employees.

Teachers, complaining that paperwork demands have become intolerable, have packed school board meetings in recent months to drive home the point. One by one, they rattled off the details of school days packed with meetings, paperwork deadlines and conferences with parents and other teachers. Working 10-hour days, plus taking work home at night and on weekends, has begun to take a physical and mental toll, they said.

The advisory council has "come up with a fairly comprehensive analysis and specific recommendations for the school system to address the issue of teacher workload," said Hal Fox, representative of the 2,057- member Carroll County Education Association and the 520- member Carroll Association of School Employees. "Hopefully, they'll be able to do something to address the problem."

The work session for the group's presentation is open to the public and planned for 5 p.m. tomorrow in Room 007 at the Board of Education at 125 N. Court St., Westminster.

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