Teacher Working Conditions

Jennifer A. Reynolds, an English teacher at Brunswick High School, is shown at her home office Tuesday afternoon.

A new agreement between Frederick County Public Schools, the Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA), and the Frederick County Board of Education will guarantee teachers work a set number of hours and receive needed technology and personal protective equipment (PPE) while the school system continues to operate in a virtual mode with some in-person learning. 

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was unanimously approved by the board at their latest meeting. 

MOU's are not uncommon, said Missy Dirks, president of the Frederick County Teachers Association, and are often used as a supplement to the negotiated contract.

Due to the ever-changing nature of the pandemic, Dirks said it was necessary to enter an MOU given that teachers are dealing with new working conditions and expectations.

"The main reason we do an MOU is so that everybody is on the same page and everybody has the same expectations," Dirks said. "It also gives clarity to principals because then they know what has been determined or decided...and it doesn't become a game of telephone, particularly when everybody is working from different locations."

Jennifer Reynolds, an English teacher at Brunswick High School and a member of the teachers union, said the current semester has been tough. It's hard to establish relationships with new students through a screen, she said, and she often ends up working longer hours than she did while at school.

She is supportive of the MOU. It prevents teachers from being overworked and allows them to have a voice. 

"When [FCPS] works with FCTA, they have teachers predicting issues that other people in the school system who aren't in the classroom all the time might not even think of," she said.

The teachers union is the largest employee bargaining unit of the school system, and represents about 4,400 teachers and other staff including school counselors and speech pathologists. FCPS employees may choose to be a member of FCTA, but negotiated terms cover all certified employees regardless of whether they are an official member.

In addition to set working hours and resources, the current MOU guarantees teachers additional planning time and paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) in case the employee or an employee's family member gets COVID-19.

Additionally, it dictates that reporting to the school building while FCPS continues to operate in a virtual mode will be voluntary and that teachers must be notified that they have to physically return to work at least two weeks prior to students returning to the building.

Dirks said one of the most important aspects of the current MOU is the guarantee that the school system will provide teachers with needed technology.

"If you expect teachers to be teaching remotely, whether they choose to go into the classroom and teach their students virtually or from home, they're going to need a device that has a webcam, and not everyone had one when we started in August," Dirks said.

And when teachers have the things they need to work efficiently, like technology, it helps students as well.

"Our teaching conditions are our students' learning conditions, they cannot be separated. If a teacher does not have what they need to instruct students, then the students won't get what they need for their education," Dirks said.

Board member Lois Jarman, a former FCPS teacher, agreed.

"I think that when teachers are comfortable and less stressed, we generally do better, and so I think that happy teachers make for happy students," she said.

Dirks also said the agreement dictates FCPS must provide every student with the necessary technology and resources—a critical component for a county that continues to rank at the bottom in terms of per-pupil spending across the state.

As far as returning to the classroom, Dirks said she feels teachers would feel more comfortable coming back if they were assured that working conditions were going to be safe. There are still many questions to be worked out before expanding any in-person learning, and Dirks said she and many FCTA members feel it would be beneficial to take the time to work through these logistics instead of rushing into anything. 

Reynolds said she is nervous about moving to a hybrid model and would rather wait and make sure all safety measures are in place.

"One of the things I worry most about is spending a lot of time trying to get people to wear masks. I mean we've struggled for years now trying to get the phones put away and kids will just sneak them back out. The masks are going to be as much of a battle, but in a worse way, because everybody's health is at risk," she said.

With the current agreement lasting until the school system transitions out of the current virtual mode, it is unclear when the next agreement will come to fruition, but Dirks made the point that regardless of the timing, it will not hinder FCPS students receiving their education. 

"Our negotiations of the [current] MOU did not hold up any of the virtual learning," Dirks said. "We want to make sure that everything is safe for our educators and our students and...no part of this is about us being obstructionists and not wanting to do our jobs. We absolutely are still working as hard as ever."

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter: @katrynajill

(15) comments

HappySeller2014

This is incredulous and absurd. Our FCPS children are slowly being disadvantaged daily. So is our greater Frederick community.

This article states, "She is supportive of the MOU. It prevents teachers from being overworked and allows them to have a voice."

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

My children are in virtual school from 8:30 AM to 12:00 PM some days, 9 AM to 12:30 PM other days, and 9 AM to 2 PM other days. With constant breaks during these days. That's it. Most afternoons there is NO instruction.

Prior to COVID-19, my children were in school six hours a day, five days a week. Only difference now is we have COVID-19 and children learning via computers, not in-person. So why only half days of instruction?

Normally, folks who lose this many hours of work have experienced a huge pay cut, furloughs or temporary layoffs. But, this not happening with FCPS. I dare anyone to share with us any profession where you cut your workload basically in half but retain full wages. If we continuing to pay FCPS teachers full wages, they should be teaching full days of schools. And my children should be receiving instruction in all their classes, every day, five days a week. We do not pay school bus drivers to drive empty buses. We do not pay FCPS cafeteria workers to serve empty lunchrooms. We lay them off. What is going on in the afternoons in this FCPS environment when no instruction is being given? Do not tell me planning, as this was not done pre-COVID-19. Teachers were teaching up until about 3 PM, every day, five days a week.

That is what the private schools in the Frederick area have been accomplishing, since day one of this school year.

The FCTA is ridiculous. If you do not have proper computer access at home, or a camera, teachers should go into empty rooms in schools, boot up school computers, and teach.

Our local taxpayer dollars are being so mismanaged and wasted here. FCPS executive management and the Frederick County School Board need to grow a spine. I do not know how they, or even FCPS teachers, can sleep at night.

Izzy

Given your opinions, I would encourage you to reach out to any FCPS teachers that you know and ask about their typical work day. Yes, you are correct that the synchronous instruction time does not represent the hours that a child is typically attending school. However, when your child attends school, they are not receiving direct instruction for the entire 6 hours. Teachers design instruction that allows for students to work in small groups, make use of technology, and work independently. This is all occurring during the virtual model. As far as workload is concerned, I think that you will find that most teachers are working more hours while the virtual model is in place. Planning is completely different, best practice for instruction have shifted, and new technologies need to be mastered. Essentially every teacher in FCPS has had to relearn their job in order to meet the needs of the current model.

When you reference our salaries, I would again remind you that synchronous instruction does not represent a teacher's work day or a student's instructional day. Personally, I work 10-12 hours each day in order to meet the needs of my students. Pre-Covid I also worked beyond the contractual day but planning was more efficient when the tools for instruction were readily available and tangible. Now, I spend my "extra" planning time making virtual tools, finding new technologies to better engage students, and communicating with families and students via Schoology and phone calls.

Finally, many teachers are teaching from their classroom. The current model or future models are not our choice. We are asked to provide feedback, but ultimately teachers are not the decision makers. Making comments about cutting wages, questioning work ethic, and asking how we sleep at night simply demonstrates your lack of understanding. Step into a teacher's shoes and then see if your opinion changes.

*By the way, I wrote this response during my 30-minute lunch....not during paid instructional or planning time.

HappySeller2014

I understand a lot of what you are saying and I respect your work effort. But, I can assure you that I have a number of neighbors and acquaintenances that show a much smaller percentage of your dedication in the FCPS environment.

In any case, my children have been in classes where, repeatedly, roll is taken and then they are off for the next 40 minutes in "study time." And this is in classes that meet only twice or three times a week, alternating weeks?

You tell me how you learn a foreign langauge if being instructed alongside other classmates just 2/3 times a week. Or a math subject, or a hard science.

I am glad to hear you are working 10-12 hours per day. I respect that. What I do not understand is if you are actually teaching a subject to children 3 or 4 hours in total per day, what are you l doing the other 8 to 9 hours a day? I follow your other tasks above, but I do not believe you need to spend two minutes on those activities for every minute interfacing with students on any given day. That is shortchanging FCPS children. Priority needs to be given to instruction. I would argue your priorities, FCPS priorities and FCTA priorities are completly backwards.

Prior to Covid-19 you were teaching in-person probably around six hours a day. So, if you are like the rest of us and put in a 40-48 hour work week, you had 10 to 18 hours of planning/grading/parent interfacing time. Now, you just delivering instruction via a computer screen. This is not a big difference in the outside world and colleges have been doing it for years. Is it really that difficult for FCPS and its professional workforce to figure this out?

I mean no disrespect. But, many of your fellow teachers clearly need some help from you to be more efficient, effective and productive. I have friends, coworkets, and family who have children in public schools in nearby Maryland counties that are being instructed full days, five days a week. Or, they are at least in every class they have, every day for 40-50 minutes, five days a week.

FCPS executives, the Frederick County School Board, and the FCTA need to look to other local counties in MD, WV and PA to observe their operations. Then, come back and defend to the Frederick public why our instructional time in this county is so low in comparison.

louisianagirl71105

You may say you understand and respect teachers, but your condescending post says otherwise. I guess you have a job that allows your work day to end when you punch out. Teachers do not have that luxury; we work constantly, whether it is in planning time, faculty meetings, professional development or grading the work of 150 students. You really have no idea what you are talking about. Do not question our priorities; we spend time away from our families to teach your children. We do so because we enjoy what we do, and we roll our eyes when people like you give us your take our profession.

HappySeller2014

Izzy, check out the school day hours in the MD counties of Washington, Carroll and Howard...

http://wcpsmd.com/schools/return-learn-2020-2021

https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/carroll/education/cc-board-of-education-meeting-virtual-day-20200820-46l4e2volvedfaqdguh365p5oa-story.html

HappySeller2014

https://www.hcpss.org/schools/opening-and-closing-times/

Not much different than pre-COVID-19 hours and children in school most of the day in these three nearby MD counties. Teachers in these three counties seem to be doing fine. Children too. They adapted nicely. They have figured out the transition from classroom to computer learning does not entail whacking off 50% of the school day. I have heard no one complaining in those counties since they all worked out the kinks and troubleshooting back during the first week of school.

Why are FCPS children being instructed 3 to 3.5 hours daily? What am I missing? Most importantly, what are FCPS children missing?

Izzy

Once again, you fail to recognize that the instructional day/synchronous instruction is not a choice for teachers. We are given a schedule that dictates the amount of time for virtual instruction. My main point is that you are attacking the people who are on the front line for your children. Making statements about our work ethic, right to a full salary, and ability to adapt to virtual instruction do not promote the change you desire. The articles that you linked, just like the one we are commenting on now paint a portion of the picture. Have you watched the BOE meetings for these counties? Have you looked at their survey data? It is naïve to think that all of the kinks were worked out in the first week. In addition to this, many of our FCPS students are "doing fine." Unfortunately, some are not. Many of my non-instructional hours are dedicated to reaching out to families and students to ensure equity. While your children may be attending their virtual instruction sessions, many are not able to attend or are not active participants. Our teachers work hard for all students. Perhaps you need to think about what is not visible. Hours on the phone with families, small group and 1-1 sessions with students, exploring new ways for students to demonstrate their learning. Just today a student shared that they were embarrassed to turn on their camera due to their home environment. It is my responsibility to find a way for that child to be an active participant in their learning, while respecting their social and emotional needs. The bottom line is that I would be careful to make judgements about teachers. Most are doing everything they can to meet the needs of their students in the current learning model. As a side note...I do lose sleep, but it's not because I am taking advantage of tax payer dollars, it is because my students need their teachers and a normal school environment. I pray they make it back to us with as little trauma possible.

louisianagirl71105

Bravo; well said indeed.

DMSchobel

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Arbit

I agree with you 100%.

lgrace

This is absurd. FCPS has largely failed in its attempt to successfully educate students under Covid restrictions. Teacher absence from virtual classrooms occurs too often and there is too much focus on the decor of the children's learning environment. There are a few outstanding teachers who are truly educators and have put forth great effort to benefit their students. Then there are those who feel perfectly safe going on vacation, eating in restaurants, protesting, attending festivals and other social gatherings but refuse to return to the classroom until it's "safe". Well, it will never be 100-percent safe--never was, never will be. With the absence of students in schools, there is no reason teachers cannot report to their physical schools and teach from there using FCPS technology. Those covered under FCTA would certainly have a difficult time functioning in the private industry where many employees have had to endure pay cuts, increased workloads, and some even total loss of their jobs.

louisianagirl71105

Did you ever stop to think that many teachers ´who would have a difficult functioning in private industry´ may have voluntarily walked away from jobs in the Valhalla of private industry? I left a career where I made three times as much, had a regular schedule and was miserable 90% of the time. I am a very well educated, professional who deserves more than criticism from someone who has likely not set foot in a classroom in decades.

NewMarketParent

@sjkmg1998

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

People attack what they can see. When it is public school education, they attack the teachers because they can see them and have the slightest amount of transparency and visibility into the process.

They bow to the gods of privatization because they don't have to acknowledge those teacher's humanity and can use that as a means to get more for less.

Someone always pays the piper. Let's treat teachers as the professional humans they are rather than pointing to a lazy strawman embodying your worst fears.

louisianagirl71105

[smile]

Arbit

My daughter just received an email from one of her teachers stating she will not be doing instruction for 1 week but assignments are posted and she will respond to emails. This is the kind of thing that frustrates me.

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