Baltimore County teachers at a town hall meeting Thursday night told Superintendent Dallas Dance they are desperately trying to keep up with the fast pace of state-mandated educational changes that have brought them more work and much frustration.
Teachers, some in tears and some angry, said the first year of the county's introduction of its new curriculum tied to the Common Core had significant problems that have yet to be addressed. More than 100 teachers attended the forum, the first Dance has held with teachers.
Vicki Charikofsky, a Millbrook Elementary School teacher, said she is an experienced teacher who had mentored colleagues but that she was having difficulty with the workload.
"I am struggling," she said, adding that she is spending 13 to 16 hours a week planning and working after school to try to keep up.
"I am not sure if it is possible for you to understand what we are going through without going through it with us," she told Dance. "What can you do this year to give us a break? … I don't know if we can make it until next year."
Maryland is one of 45 states and the District of Columbia that has required school districts to teach to the new, more rigorous Common Core standards. Each school district has been writing its own curriculum to go with the standards. But Baltimore County's rollout of its curriculum has been particularly troubled, and the Teachers Association of Baltimore County filed a grievance last month, saying teachers had been working long hours and had not been supplied with the curriculum and materials in time to do their jobs.
Dance acknowledged the problems that the teachers brought up Thursday. He said the first unit of curriculum for the new Common Core standards had been written too quickly and was "awful." But, he said, he believed the curriculum that is now being written is improving.
Some teachers also expressed concern that the new standards are so high that their students had not obtained the skills in previous years to be prepared for what they are now required to do.
In elementary school, one teacher said, the curriculum says students should take notes on a text so they can write a research paper. But, she said, they have never been taught to take notes and don't know what a research paper is.
Jenna Loomis, a Seventh District Elementary School teacher, told Dance: "The curriculum only comes to life through the hard work and enthusiasm of quality teachers. Excellent teachers are considering different career paths because of the debacle in Baltimore County, and those who are not looking elsewhere are tired and defeated. At some point we need to be a priority."
Kelly Baker, a West Towson Elementary teacher, said she was glad that Dance was listening to teacher concerns but that it wasn't enough.
"I thought he definitely showed he was supportive," she said after the meeting. "I wish there were more answers to the things we are facing. When is the help going to come?"