Maryland teacher unions consider grievance process to address increased workloads

More paperwork, less prep time.

That’s been the theme of complaints Richard Benfer, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County (TAAAC), has been receiving all year, after federal guidelines changed the way teachers implemented their curriculum and evaluations for students.

The complaints were so severe, he said, the association took an extra step, filing a grievance with Anne Arundel County Schools earlier this year because of teacher workload issues.

“Teachers couldn’t get the workload done in a manageable timeframe,” Benfer said. “We had to make our concerns known.”

The grievance was later withdrawn, Benfer said to concentrate on contract negotiations.

With the school year coming to a close, teacher unions might file more grievances over increased workloads because of the demands to meet federal changes with the state’s education curriculum.

“We won’t rule out another filing,” Benfer said. “Next time we will have more information.”

Bob Mosier, spokesman for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said the school system was aware of the grievance, but would not comment any further.

At the beginning of the school year, union leaders in Anne Arundel County started collecting data on teachers.

In a survey of about 1,400 secondary and primary school teachers, TAAAC asked teachers to log how many hours outside of school they dedicated on things like course preparation, student evaluations and meetings with parents.

When asked how many hours were spent coordinating coursework outside the classroom, nearly 400 teachers said more than four hours.

Another 420 secondary teachers said they spent six or more hours on paperwork related to new student evaluation plans that were implemented last year.

Trouble for teachers began with the implementation of more rigorous standards known as the Common Core, Benfer said. Through the changes, local school districts are expected to develop their own curriculums based on the guidelines.

Teachers also saw a change in the way they conducted evaluations with students.

Benfer said the evaluation changes are adding additional pressure to teachers, many who feel they will be evaluated by a new set of guidelines while adjusting to a new curriculum.

Teachers in Baltimore County have also experienced similar issues. In November, the school system filed a workload grievance saying teachers are working long hours because of the new standards.

Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland Board of Education, said that with any new curriculum, change will be hard in the beginning.

He said from the board’s perspective, he has not heard any complaints filed against increased workloads because of the changes.

“In fact, teachers have welcomed the new curriculum,” he said. “It’s something new that we will adapt.”

Reinhard said the same thing happened 10 years ago, when the state adopted a new course standard.

Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Educators Association, said teachers across the state have worked tirelessly to ensure the new standards are being implemented effectively.

In an effort to assist with professional development, her organization applied for a half million dollars in grants to help train educators on how to better implement the teaching changes.

“We are working together to implement this,” she said. “It’s a dynamic process.”

Weller said there has been discussion among school districts about filing grievances, but said the effectiveness of them is based on how union contracts are worded.

While Baltimore County had language in its contract to deal with workload issues and curriculum, the same wording did not exist for teachers in Harford County.

Ryan Burbey, president of the Teachers Association of Harford County, said the idea of Common Core is a great thing, but feels the state failed in providing preparation for it.

“It’s like a tsunami of reform,” he said. “It was just too much at once.”

Burbey said his union also filed grievances over workload issues.

He said the key difference to other counties was having the financial resources to deal with the problems and the right contracting language to get the needs addressed.

“The funding isn’t there to support the issues like it might be in Baltimore County,” he said. “This is nothing new here.”

Benfer anticipates the increased workload will create more teacher vacancies at the start of the next school year.

“The first wave of retirements are just starting,” he said. “That was just the first round, I anticipate more.”

Reinhard said to the contrary, teacher vacancies in Maryland are at an all-time low and does not predict a mass exodus next year.

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