Fairfax teachers express frustration with workload, other issues
By T. Rees Shapiro,
Hundreds of teachers expressed frustration and despair at a town hall meeting with Fairfax County school board members Monday night, detailing what many educators described as terrible morale in the workforce.
During the event, teachers gave testimony to the school board members and provided vignettes about how their workload and objectives set by the school administration was affecting their daily lives. Many of those who spoke to the school board members called for a shorter work day, pay raises or more time off to compensate for their packed schedules.
Lynn Schmauder, a math teacher at Woodson High School and mother of two Fairfax students told school board members: “I have two kids at home and I feel like I am missing their lives.”
Paul Rubenstein, an English teacher at Fairfax High School who got married last August, said: “I’m concerned as a recent newlywed that this is going to ruin my marriage.”
Dan Hale, a primary grade teacher at Orange Hunt elementary told the board: “In the 20 years I’ve worked in the school system, I’ve never felt so overwhelmed as I do today.”
Ten of the twelve board members attended the open-mike meeting in Falls Church hosted by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, which represents 4,300 school employees. At least 350 teachers went to the town hall at the Fairview Park Marriott.
As teachers spoke into the microphone, their colleagues in the audience waved bright green sheets of paper in the air to show their agreement with certain statements. When those who spoke mentioned the teacher evaluation system, the curriculum pacing guides, the amount of grading, data or the tests that the administration requires from educators, a sea of green papers fluttered vigorously in the air.
School board members said afterward that the green papers helped quickly demonstrate which issues were a priority for the majority of teachers in attendance.
Steven Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said that the reason for the meeting with the school board, “is because we’d like to solve problems together for ourselves and for our children.”
Greenburg said later in the evening that he decided to take on the leadership of the federation because he was tired of watching his colleagues cry in their classrooms from frustration or leave their jobs altogether. A common theme among the teachers who testified was that they felt micro-managed from administrators in the school system’s central office.
Roger McKay, a music teacher at Laurel Ridge elementary, said that paperwork required by the school system has given him so much to do but no time to do it.
“They have taken the fun out of teaching,” McKay said. “I truly believe that have little idea what’s going on in our schools.”
Schmauder said she has 130 Algebra II and Geometry students and has spent a total of 41 days grading papers. Earlier in her career, she worked as an engineer for the Department of Defense, testing ballistic missile systems. She’s been teaching full time in Fairfax County for three years and describes the environment as “a pressure cooker.”
“This was the first job I had where I thought I was really making a difference,” Schmauder said. “But I cannot sustain this.”
Some of the teachers who testified did not identify themselves in order to speak more openly to the board members. One teacher with 30 years of experience said she works often with younger educators and interns. She told the board that she will likely advise the younger teachers not to pursue a long term career in the field.
“I used to get up in the morning and say I love my job,” the teacher said. “I don’t feel that way anymore.”
School board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) said that the event gave teachers the opportunity to talk directly to those with the authority to find solutions to their problems.
“Their workload is creating this tremendous morale problem,” McLaughlin said. “We are responsible now to roll up our shirt sleeves and address this issue once and for all.”