Some teachers in Carroll begin 'work to rule' action


They begin arriving as early as 7:20 a.m.

Some Oklahoma Road Middle School teachers walk a few laps outside the building. Others drift over to the nearby McDonald's for coffee. Many remain huddled in the parking lot, just across the bus loop from the building's main entrance, where they talk about their quiet protest for respect, appreciation and better pay.

What the few dozen teachers don't do is escort early-arriving pupils to the cafeteria, meet with parents or spend extra time setting up their classrooms - all the normal before-school activities of a teacher.

Instead, they do not budge from the parking lot until 8:03 a.m., allowing just enough time to get to their classrooms by the time they are required by contract to punch in for the day.

Like their colleagues at at least four other Carroll County schools, teachers at Oklahoma Road are working to rule.

Upset with their workload and the way one tentative contract agreement collapsed and a deal with lesser raises was offered, some teachers have decided to work more closely to the terms of their contracts and refuse extra-curricular activities.

The job action, the first of its type in 20 years in the county, has left some clubs without advisers and required parents to fill in as chaperones and ticket-takers at dances and athletic events. And it could expand next week when union representatives from the county's 37 schools meet to decide whether they all should boycott activities for which they're not paid.

"We're trying to impress upon the world that for years, we've been asked to set the example and we have. Our test scores are up and we've taken the challenge of sponsoring clubs and working with kids before and after school, but things just keep getting added on," said John Leister, a technology teacher at Eldersburg's Oklahoma Road Middle and 32-year veteran of Carroll schools.

"But our biggest headache was that the Board of Education was not showing us respect and consideration - the same character traits they expect us to teach to the students."

School officials and some parents say they are concerned that students will suffer because of teachers' decisions to abandon their before- and after-school responsibilities.

Claire Kwiatkowski, president of the Carroll County Council of PTAs, has gotten 50 calls from parents upset with the teachers' actions. More have approached her with their concerns at church, on the soccer fields and in the grocery store.

"The teachers union wants our support, but it's difficult for the parents to support the teachers when they say they're going to do less than their personal best," she said.

"Parents are saying, 'We're doing all this stuff for teachers - we give them meals, contribute in the classroom, volunteer and help out as much as we can - and we expect teachers to support us in kind. ... Most professionals come to work early and leave late.'"

Union negotiations hit an impasse this summer after school board members cut their proposed spending plan to align it with county budget allocations.

Hammered out with the help of a mediator, the second contract gave teachers the equivalent of a 4 percent raise over the next two years rather than the 3 percent annual raises tentatively approved in the first round.

About 115 teachers turned out at the board's August meeting in protest, threatening to work to rule. Last week, union members overwhelmingly approved the second contract proposal, leading school officials to believe that the worst was behind them after the most difficult bargaining season in years.

But teachers at Linton Springs Elementary in Eldersburg already had quietly become the first to boycott work beyond their contractual obligations.

Ninety-five percent of the faculty voted to work to rule; beginning with the first week of classes in August, teachers refused to plan lessons at home, grade papers in the evening or attend after-school activities for which they are not paid.

Their reasons are different from those at the four other schools - Hampstead's North Carroll High, Mechanicsville Elementary in Gamber, Manchester Elementary and Oklahoma Road Middle - that local teachers union President Cindy Wheeler identified as the schools where the faculty voted to work to rule.

For Linton Springs teachers, it's about workload more than money or respect.

Fourth-grade teacher Michele Becker said they have become fed up with curriculum requirements and student assessments that school administrators have layered on without eliminating others. Teachers are unable to effectively teach so much in so little time, and students suffer, she said.

"We've found that giving 200 percent to meet the needs of our curriculum is no longer suitable," Becker said, adding that teachers decided the only way to attract attention was to enact the most aggressive work action allowed by state law. Maryland teachers are not allowed to strike.

School board Vice President Susan Holt worries that the implications could stretch beyond students not having a horticulture club, National Honor Society, a trip to Philadelphia or teachers at a PTA function.

"Teachers I've talked to have described feeling like they have to sneak back into their schools to do work," she said, "and I'm concerned that this may be dividing schools."

The work-to-rule campaigns at other schools seem designed more as a statement than as a way of eliminating duties. Many instructors who leave promptly at the time their contract allows, for instance, still take home papers to grade and draft lesson plans in the evening.

Coaches are still out on the fields after school because they receive additional pay for those duties. The show will go on with fall plays and spring musicals because drama teachers, for the most part, also are paid extra for that.

And teachers who have served as yearbook advisers will still do so, though teachers will help only during the school day.

"We came to this with heavy hearts because to do something like this goes against the nature of being a teacher and what we came to the profession for," said Tony Roman, a North Carroll social studies teacher, former coach and 21-year educator.

"But when the people who we work with and who run the system didn't support us, we finally decided we needed to make a statement. We just want to feel appreciated."

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