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Harford teachers have no choice but work-to-rule

I am a teacher at Fallston High School, and I read in the newspaper about the recent work-to-rule action at Bel Air High School. Last Thursday afternoon, teachers at Fallston High School as well as other schools across the county decided to adopt a similar action.

Friday morning at Fallston High School, approximately 40 teachers met outside the school and walked in together at exactly 7 a.m.. At 2:20 p.m., we met in front of the main office and marched out together.

This action included teachers who are members of the HCEA (our local education association or union) and some who are not. We will be doing the same action for the rest of this school year and have discussed continuing the action into the new school year.

This is something none of us desires.

We take this action with a great deal of reluctance. It has taken several years of poor treatment to get the teachers to the point where we would consider employing the only weapon in our arsenal. The relationship with the Harford County Board of Education and, by extension, the County Council and County Executive David Craig, has always been "tense" but up until recently at least respectful. They used to pretend that we had some power, and we used to pretend that we had some power. The situation has changed in that they are essentially calling our bluff. All parties agree that there is very little we can do.

In the past several years, the school board has promised us a cost-of-living increase on a number of occasions, and the council simply refused to fund it. The county has cleverly fulfilled its legal obligations in negotiating with HCEA by proxy through the school board but without any intention of living up to the promises that were made by the negotiators. This has been borne out by the findings of the Maryland Public School Labor Relations Board, which has concluded that the county has negotiated in bad faith for several years running.

Since HCEA cannot bargain directly with the council, it is for all intents and purposes powerless. Our only legal option is work-to-rule. In any other profession, fulfilling your obligations exactly would be considered admirable. Nobody likes the idea of teachers doing it. Least of all the teachers themselves.

It has been said that a relationship is controlled by the party that cares the least. In this case the school board, council and executive are hoping that teachers will relent and continue to put in extra time without compensation because everyone knows it will benefit the students.

They are counting on us to care about the students more than they do.

Being a teacher is not something I do, it is what I am. I am asked to do many things as a teacher that I find silly or redundant. I do them all because that allows me to do the important work: explaining in some small way how the universe works to young people who need to know these things.

I did not go into teaching to be wealthy, but I believe that I should have the reasonable expectation that if I could afford a loaf of bread five years ago, I should be able to afford the same loaf of bread today, and I can't.

I should not have to choose between helping someone who needs me and feeding my family.

Ben White

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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