Arlington County students began school this week, but for many of them it promises to be year of uncertainty as some of their teachers heed a call from the Arlington Education Association to perform school functions only during the assigned contract day.
For students the policy will mean fewer after-school clubs or weekend projects, and for the schools it will mean fewer planning and evaluation committees, teachers said.
"We've got to realize that we can no longer give two working days per day, 10 working days per week," said George R. Long, a member of the executive board of the AEA and an eighth grade English teacher at Swanson School. "There are many of us who are busy with everything under the sun, but we're doing more than is good for our mental and physical health."
The AEA has called for the "work to the rule" policy because teachers' salaries and benefits have been eroding since the Virginia Supreme Court ruled two years ago that collective bargaining by state employes is illegal, said Florence Rosse, president of the association. The policy was triggered, however, by the school board's decision in May to increase teachers' salaries by only 5 percent, rather than the 7 percent the teachers requested, and the board's decision to not accpet binding arbitration, she said.
"I know it's most difficult task for such devoted teachers . . ." Rosse told about 450 teachers gathered for a rally at Thomas Jefferson School last week. "When teachers are treated fairly, children benefit. When teachers are treated poorly, children suffer."
Earlier in the morning, however, the 1,100 teachers in the county gathered for the first formal staff meeting of the year and heard School Superintendent Larry Cuban urges them to continue their professional duties. Cuban told the teachers that he is aware of their frustrations brought on by inadequate salary increases and the loss of collective bargaining.
"I don't think this is the time to catalog all the gloomy problems that touch all of us," Cuban said. "I feel that way not because I want to be a Pollyanna, shutting out the negative and accentuating only the positive. I feel that way because repeated stress upon problems no one here caused misses the larger, and more essential, point that the teaching, administrative and supporting staffs of this school system have not fallen into a woe-is-me, unhappy condition and let it affect their performance with children, tasks and colleagues. . . .
"We are accountable for improving at least academic performance. We are responsible for making kids feel good about themselves in school. . . .
"We cannot throw up our collective hands in anger or despair and give up when the larger community upon whom we are fiscally dependent provides us with less support. That is exactly what our critics say we do. But we can not . . . Yet as professionals who work on a daily basis with children and pursue our assigned tasks, we are expected to give the best of our skills.We have done so and cannot do otherwise without betraying our commitment as trained, experienced professionals."
Long, however, said that professionalism for teachers does not mean giving up their personal lives and free time for their job. Besides the salary increases teachers want, he said, they need smaller student loads.
Long estimated that about one-third of the county's teaching staff is deeply committed to the "work to the rule" policy and will strictly follow it.Another third will ignore it, and the rest will try to follow it but will probably end up still doing some extra activities, he said.
Long, who estimated that last year he put in 25 hours a week after the contract day on school business ranging from serving on school committees to correcting student papers, said he fit into the third group. He said he already has plans to serve on several committees, but he will try to fit them inot the half hour of planning time given to teacher each day. That means, however, that he will probably give less homework to students and make the students do more of the correcting of papers within the classroom, he said.
Ellen Schoetzau, a fourth grade teacher at Glencarlyn School, said teachers have already begun to "balk" when asked to volunteer for school assignments.
"The apathy is unbelievebale," she said. "I'm not sure they're vocal, but the teachers are getting disgusted.
"I think teachers are going to do what they need to get by," said Schoetzau, who herself is quitting her work with the school student council. "But I don't think they'll be doing anything extra. I don't want to hurt the kids. I have a job to do and that's to educate the kids. And I'm going to do the best that I can. But I don't feel like I'm being treated like a professional."
Maurin Edwards, a teacher in Arlington for the past 13 years, agreed with that assessment. She is at the top of the pay scale in the school system and therefore qualifies only for cost of living increases in pay. She said the 7 percent salary increase over the last two years - teachers were granted a 2 percent increase last year in addition to this year's 5 percent - was used to pay the increased property taxes on her home in Arlington.
"I'm proud of the job, and I really think a great deal off what I'm doing," she said. "Then having 7 percent given to me is like going to a nice restaurant and giving a penny tip. It's very insulting."
Edwards said that she will not serve on school advisory committees this year as she has done in the past, and she will try to limit the amount of work she brings home. In the past, she said, she spent about 2 1/2 hours on weeknights and part of her weekend correcting papers. She said that this year she will not develop her own reader for the students, a project she has already done in the past and which takes about 60 hours of her free time. Instead she plans to use commercial readers and ones she has used in the past. She also intends to cut down on the number of conferences she schedules with parents after school hours. But she still expects that some of her work will be left to do at home.
"That's ridiculous for an elementary teacher to say she won't bring anything home," Edwards said. "We just don't have the planning time (to do it all at school) . . . You could go for weeks and not use the planning time for the kids (because of other school tasks)."
Edwards said that the student's needs and her professional attitude are still very important.
"I'm going to work every minute of the day while I'm at school," she said. "I intend to do the very, very best job I can do. I will continue at that because I like to excel at what I do. . . .However, I guess it's a little like bridge, you have to lose a little to gain something."