Issaquah teachers are critical of ‘unsustainable workloads’
November 26, 2013
By Neil Pierson
New standards, longer work days are top complaints
Members of the Issaquah Education Association met with the Issaquah School Board for an hour last week, and much of the discussion centered on what the IEA president termed “unsustainable workloads” for teachers.
During a study session prior to the school board’s Nov. 13 meeting, the IEA — a union of more than 1,000 certificated teachers — spoke about the results of a bargaining survey conducted this fall. More than 70 percent of Issaquah’s teachers responded, and a few common complaints emerged.
Washington’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards, along with a new evaluation system for teachers and principals, have led to increased workloads and a general sense of overwhelming stress among educators, IEA officials said.
Common Core aims to have a uniform definition of reading and math knowledge for K-12 students throughout the country. All public school districts in Washington will fully implement Common Core in the 2014-15 school year.
IEA President Phyllis Runyon said she has received several emails from teachers this year that have made her cry, and there’s a prevailing sense that teachers aren’t alone in their inability to meet demands.
“There’s some satisfaction in learning that everyone has the same problem as you, which is really kind of sad,” Runyon said.
The teachers union is in a contract bargaining year, and expects to begin negotiations with district officials early in 2014.
Longer work days appear to be a more common complaint among elementary-school teachers, Runyon said. Implementing new curriculum to match up with Common Core assessments is being done on a one-subject-per-year basis, but because K-5 educators teach all subjects, they’re not getting a break.
Some teachers have complained of losing sleep or not having enough time with their families; one teacher apparently resigned because she wasn’t seeing her child until bedtime every night, Runyon said.
“I’m hearing pretty consistently at the elementary level that they’re working 12-hour days, and if they don’t want to work weekends, then they’re working until 9 o’clock at night on Fridays,” she said. “It’s incredibly stressful, and it’s taking a real health and job satisfaction effect on teachers that have done this for years.”
IEA Vice President Doug Jones, a social studies teacher at Issaquah High School, said elementary school teachers typically form deeper attachments to their students. While secondary teachers become important mentors, he said, there is not usually the same nurturing, caring relationship with students.
Jones believes teachers are becoming increasingly frustrated and burning out because of the workload, and the survey results have borne that out.
“This isn’t healthy for our teachers or our students,” he said. “We were surprised at the breadth, depth and severity of the issues. … We really have to fix this one.”
Gary Arthur, an IEA representative who teaches fifth grade at Issaquah Valley Elementary School, noted a common frustration among his peers regarding the district’s new science curriculum. Equipment has been difficult to use, and while teachers have found solutions during collaborative time, they’re also at school more often in the evenings and on the weekends. They’re also taking time away from their professional development schedule — necessary tasks that can help them achieve a higher pay grade.
“When we get that number of stories saying the same thing … it does make you wonder, ‘What is going on?’” Arthur said.
The IEA spelled out some solutions it gleaned from the recent survey.
One idea, Arthur said, would be to reduce class sizes. Teachers often spend an inordinate amount of time with special-needs students, a problem exacerbated by an already large classroom.
Teachers have also suggested an organized structure for writing lessons. Marie Duke, an IEA representative who teaches kindergarten at Issaquah Valley, said she has too much reading to do in order to plan the next day’s lesson, and she doesn’t have enough time or help to administer tests.
She also believes the expectation for half-day kindergarteners to learn as much as full-day kindergarteners is unrealistic.
“It’s apples and oranges,” Duke said.
Superintendent Ron Thiele said he and fellow administrators are sympathetic to teacher needs. They’ve spent a lot of time identifying problems in order to solve them, and he thinks everyone wants the same things: good teachers, good students and high expectations in a healthy environment where no one feels overwhelmed.
“We’re not deaf to what we’re hearing,” Thiele said. “It isn’t coming as a shock either.”