As Baltimore City teachers call for salary increases, new study finds they are overworked at ‘unsustainable’ levels

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The day after Baltimore City public school teachers called for higher salaries at Tuesday’s school board meeting, a new study by a local nonprofit found they reported being overworked at “unsustainable” levels as they work to recover from challenges exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Researchers from the Fund for Educational Excellence interviewed 202 city teachers and nine former teachers about their classroom experiences. The conversations touched on what was driving them out of their jobs or incentivizing them to stay in the schools. This is the sixth report of a qualitative research series that started in 2014, researcher Corrie Schoenberg said.


Teachers said in the study that their students remain “deeply affected” by the pandemic and virtual learning.

Educators also reported being asked to do unmanageable amounts of work in little time and “unrealistic” expectations from administrators and leadership.


The study’s findings were released as educators rally for higher salaries and the state’s teacher workforce faces shortages.

According to a 2022 Maryland State Department of Education report, the state had about 2,000 teacher vacancies in September 2021. For the 2021-22 school year, 10% of teachers who worked the previous year did not return to their districts, the report found. The city school system currently has 1,000 vacancies, according to Baltimore Teachers Union President Diamonté Brown.

Asked about the report, city schools spokesperson Sherry Christian said in a statement, “We must continually find new ways to provide leadership and support to teachers in the face of increased challenges, including chronic underfunding, providing them with effective leaders, and managing their workload while raising the bar on student achievement.”

Christian cited the system’s “Blueprint: Building A New Generation” strategy plan, implemented for the 2017-18 school year, and pandemic recovery efforts as testaments to such leadership. She said the next step is to build upon teachers’ positive relationships at the school level.

“This is work we embrace and look forward to tackling together,” Christian said in the statement.

Salary negotiations

At Tuesday evening’s Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners meeting, teachers warned of an education “crisis” facing the system next fall if salaries don’t meet those of neighboring counties.

“We are pleading with you to engage with us,” Brown said at the meeting, expressing concern on the city’s last day of school over the “lack of action” from commissioners following recent salary increases for educators in neighboring counties.

The school board’s media team said in an email that the commissioners are “currently in negotiations with BTU on a new agreement.”


Base teacher salaries in the city started at just under $54,000 at the beginning of the school year for new educators with a bachelor’s degree only. Members of the teachers’ union, fighting for a starting salary of $60,000, said city schools could face a staffing crisis if the pay schedule doesn’t increase to compete with neighboring school districts.

Starting salaries for teachers in Baltimore County will begin at nearly $59,000 following a May contract agreement between the teachers’ union and the school board there, bringing the county’s base pay closer to those in that of Howard and Montgomery counties. Soon after, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman followed with a proposed budget amendment to bump teachers’ base pay to almost match those counties, which the county council passed Wednesday.

“What’s keeping educators here when they can earn more money under significantly better working conditions in another district?” asked Nathan Ferrell, a teacher who warned of numerous phone calls he had received from prospective educators who were “in shock” at their salary offers from the Baltimore City Public School System.

Teacher Zia Hellman works with virtual students during the first week of in-person classes at Walter P. Carter Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore, Nov. 20, 2020.

While the union’s bargaining process is ongoing, teachers accused school system leadership of what Brown described as “a lack of concern and conversation and commitment” regarding salaries in neighboring counties. She said the city school system’s negotiations team “has not provided a single substantive response on any of the core issues we have raised” such as salaries as well as a lack of guaranteed planning time during the workday.

Brown said this is the first negotiating session she’s experienced where the board has held off on giving the union a substantive response. She said she doesn’t know why the board would avoid such conversations given the ongoing teacher shortage and the potential of losing more teachers.

Brown said the current contract ends June 30, and given the board’s inaction, there is “apparently not” a deadline for the board to make a decision on the contract so the budget can stand in alignment.


Teacher working conditions

Brown said in an interview that working conditions are not great in city schools, and she’s fearful people will choose to leave for surrounding school systems.

Hamilton Elementary Middle School teacher Otis L. Elridge Jr. said that although he’s had a positive experience overall teaching in city schools for five years, there’s not enough time for him to finish his assigned work. To get things done, he works many hours for free.

“You’re always having to do extra work after school or on weekends when you should actually have an opportunity to relax with your family or maybe get involved in a hobby,” Elridge said. “I’m having to do work for my school. And I mean, I understand this is a professional career and that when you are a professional, you have to sometimes take your work home, but I think that [teaching] probably is one of the careers where you can do the most free work.”

To manage the heavy workload, teachers have relied on one another for support, according to the study from the Fund for Educational Excellence, a Baltimore nonprofit that helps identify needs within the school system.

Elridge said relying on one another sometimes means having a quick conversation with a colleague to “know I’m not going it alone.”

The report also said teachers find value in school leaders who showcase their appreciation through their actions, not just their words.


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Emily Robinson, who just finished her second year teaching with city schools and is moving to teach art at Belmont Elementary School, said her principals have been supportive, be it through verbal affirmations or one-on-one discussions with positive feedback. Robinson said managers have been especially understanding as she works through challenges related to chronic illness.

“As a teacher, you’re obviously going to feel very run-down, especially mid-year. And you can feel sometimes like you’re not valued,” Robinson said. “However, I think the principals at my school have done a really great job of acknowledging the work that you do.”

The study crafted four recommendations for city schools to better retain teachers: prioritize effective staff management practices, decrease teacher workloads where possible, invest in teacher pipeline programming and improve communication between district leadership and teachers.

More help for Black students

Although the study focused on teacher retention, it also highlighted a desire among educators for the school system to do more for its Black student population.

In research interviews, teachers said curriculums should better reflect the Black student experience. They also said the school system needs more Black educators.

Robinson, who is half Black, said her identity helps students feel more comfortable in her classroom. She said older teachers might not be as educated on equity and related topics, though professional development and other programming have helped teachers become more equitable educators. Additionally, teachers who are overworked might be less understanding of students’ needs, she said.


“I think it’s so easy when we’re kind of burnt out as teachers to want to just get things done and to make a first judgment and keep moving,” Robinson said. “But I think it’s really important to take a step back and be like, ‘OK, what is the student really going through?’ There are more pieces to the puzzle.”