Friday, October 07, 2011

Arlington teachers' distress over cuts is getting noticed Read more:

By Robert Cadwallader | Star Telegram
Wednesday, Oct. 05, 2011

ARLINGTON -- With more students, an added class to teach and half the conference time, high school teachers like Dean Wou have struggled during the new and leaner school year.

"It's impossible to keep up with my work," said the Lamar High School Spanish teacher. "I can't get everything graded that I have to grade. I can't plan for all the things that I need to."

Deep budget and staff cuts -- including about 165 teaching positions by attrition -- in response to state funding reductions are hitting home for many teachers. But their frustration has not gone unnoticed by the school board.

Tonight district officials, responding to a request from trustees who have received a tide of e-mails from teachers, will outline proposals for easing their burden without busting the budget.

Central administrators declined to detail their proposals before the meeting. But one measure, according to Trustee John Hibbs, would be to hire long-term substitutes and teaching assistants at the six high schools to help in the classroom.

"Also, some paraprofessionals would be brought in to help with the task of having to run copies and things, which would greatly free up some time for teachers," Hibbs said. Most of that assistance would be for teachers of the core subjects of English, math, science and history, he said.

Officials of the United Educators Association, which represents 2,931 of Arlington's 4,080 teachers, said staff reductions that resulted in an additional class for each teacher and the loss of conference time are wearing down many teachers.

"We do appreciate that the board is listening to the concerns and trying to come up with solutions," said UEA Executive Director Larry Shaw. "But we're not sure they're really going to work. What the teachers need is time in the day, every day, to get things done."

Adjustments studied

Superintendent Jerry McCullough said schedule adjustments for next year are already being studied.

For this year, the district eliminated one 90-minute conference period every other day for high school teachers and replaced it with another class to teach. Last year they taught six 90-minute classes over two days -- three classes and one conference period each day. This year, they have a "4 x 3" block schedule -- alternating four classes one day and three classes with a conference period the next.

At a board meeting last month, officials said their analysis showed that the number of teachers with unwieldy numbers of students was not as large as they initially feared. In the breakdown, most teachers have 110 to 180 students a day.

"What we were concerned about was that a lot of teachers would be thrust into this category where they would have 200 to 210 students," said Trustee Aaron Reich. That didn't happen, but the stress is high. "There were just too many red flags a few weeks into the school year, with a lot of teachers who are known to be high-energy being tired," he said.

Unhappy teachers

A UEA survey of high school teachers last month indicated widespread unhappiness. With about 400 of the 1,095 high school teachers responding to the online survey, 93 percent said no to the question, "Is the 4 x 3 schedule working for you?" Also, two-thirds said they prefer switching to a seven-period day next year, in which they would teach six classes and have one 45-minute planning break every day.

The 84-page survey report was filled with hundreds of anonymous comments from teachers, virtually all of them painting frantic scenes of teachers starting days well before their contracted shifts and staying late and struggling to find time for students who need extra help.

"I feel like quitting," one wrote. "This ridiculous schedule combined with the overwhelming number of students, the workload, the meetings, the grading ... I love teaching. I love my students. I hate my job."

But not all teachers feel unfairly overworked, said Carole Lemonds, co-president of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, which represents about 725 school district employees. Unlike the UEA, the ATPE also includes administrators in its ranks.

"I know that the workload has increased for everyone, and it's unfortunate that the budget cuts had to be made," Lemonds said. "But I'm receiving few comments of concern."

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