‘Running on fumes’: Williamson County teachers ask for relief from workload

Williamson County Education Association President Laura Kleman told the school board on Monday that teachers in Williamson County Schools are “running on fumes.”

“Every single person has been working nonstop,” she said.

The 2020-21 school year has been an unprecedented time for teachers regarding workload, including creating new educational standards and adapting to new procedures during the pandemic.

“Systems and procedures that should have taken years to develop became practiced standards overnight,” Kleman said.

Teachers scrambled to align state and WCS educational standards to the remote learning model and the WCS online program.

The WCS online program grew exponentially from serving close to 500 students last year to 6,700 students this year, becoming the largest “school” in the district.

Kleman spoke before the 12-member school board, asking for relief and explaining that teachers need more time.

She thanked the board for piloting asynchronous learning days, a concept that WCS Superintendent Jason Golden introduced at the board work session last Thursday.

Asynchronous learning days allow teachers to plan for classes while students participate in remote, independent learning at home.

“(Teachers need) time to recharge,” she said. “Time to become skilled in our new platforms. Time to develop quality educational experiences for students. Time to respond to individual learners and reinforce standards.

“I am asking you as a board to support whatever solutions our district can provide.”

According to a WCEA-created teacher survey, results show that the majority of teachers are spending more than eight hours per week outside the school day preparing for school.

  • 24.2% of teachers spend 8.1 to 12 hours per week beyond the work day
  • 23.8% of teachers spend 5.1 to 8 hours per week beyond the work day
  • 18% of teachers spend 12.1 to 15 hours per week beyond the work day
  • 12 % of teachers 15.1 to 20 hours per week beyond the work day

About 49% of educators also spend about five additional hours per week on administrative tasks, according to the survey, while some send even more.

Teachers also reported that they receive an average of 1,082 emails per month.

On a scale of one (“very unbalanced, I am worried about my health being impacted”) to five (“I have a great balance and am happy with my job and my personal life”), 38.4% of teachers rated their work/life balance as a two, while 26.2% rated it as a one and 25.1% rated it as a three. Only 1.4% rated it as a five.

A few anonymous teacher comments from the survey include the following:

  • “Honestly, I feel like my job is everything but teaching. With everything being constantly thrown at me and working close to 12 hours Monday-Friday just on the things that I need to do for work, I know that at some point something will have to give.”
  • “I am currently sitting and creating online plans for my students in tears. My collar bone hurts, and I cannot move my right arm without sharp pain. I will not be able to go to work tomorrow. I am up at 5:30 in the morning to work before school and usually head to bed about 11 on a good night. … I can already see growth and the parents and students are VERY happy but I am physically, mentally, and emotionally (worn) down. For the first time in 18 years, I am willing to walk away from the profession I love.”
  • “I am working an average of 12-15 hours a day (including weekends). I have no time for my family, housework, or my homework for my college courses. I feel like I am drowning. Between teaching in person and online, I have zero time. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get work done. My personal health has taken the backseat. I need TIME. This year is exhausting and we are only five weeks in.”

What are the solutions?

On Tuesday, the district implemented asynchronous learning days as a pilot for secondary schools because of the feedback from teachers.

Kleman said asynchronous learning days are a start to provide teachers with more relief and time. However, she hopes elementary teachers will also be able to participate in the district’s initiative soon.

“We cannot forget our youngest learners and teachers. They, too, deserve the opportunity to refill their tank,” she said.

Not all COVID-19 accommodations granted

Kleman said she wanted to “dispel the myth” that teachers who didn’t want to return to the classroom were able to teach in the online program.

“The reality is this: Many staff who requested accommodations did not receive an online position,” she said.

“As a result, if an educator fears for their health or that of their family, their only options are to roll the dice and hope they don’t bring COVID-19 home or leave the profession they love and spent years perfecting.”

WCS continues to have a substitute and teacher shortage and still has vacant positions available, she said.

“We can’t afford to lose more highly trained professionals,” Kleman said.

According to the school district, 84 teachers have resigned since July, while 18 have retired since July 1.

District acknowledges hardships

Teachers have had uncommon struggles and hardships this year, Golden and Communications Director Carol Birdsong said during a district Facebook livestream update on Tuesday.

“Teachers have had to adjust,” Birdsong said. “Some teachers say it’s like being a first year teacher.”

Golden acknowledged the heavy lift of expanding the WCS Online Program this summer before school started. The program, which was delayed a week due to adding new platforms like Edgenuity, has been criticized by some middle and high school parents.

“We created a program from scratch, almost instantly,” Golden said. “We’ve had some ups and downs along the way.”

“We weren’t expecting 6,700 families,” Birdsong added.

The WCS online programs is striving to make improvements following parent complaints, assistant superintendent of secondary schools Leigh Webb has explained in recent school board meetings.

All teachers have been affected, Birdsong said.

“They had to learn new skill sets, teach remotely, learn computer platforms, and because of a COVID-10 isolation situation, teachers might have to transition to remote learning … and then you thrown in online program classes,” she said.

Because of quarantine, some students might be off campus for as much as two weeks, which leaves teachers scrambling to adapt classroom assignments to remote learning platforms like Google classroom and Schoology.

“Teachers will have time to prepare and plan,” Golden said about the asynchronous days. “They will have time to catch up and learn new platforms.”

The school board discussed on Monday the importance of granting teachers and students a reprieve from school pressures, or rest time, including the asynchronous learning initiative. Board member Eliot Mitchell also suggested a longer fall break next year, during a discussion about devising the 2021-22 school calendar.

The district planned to review the outcome of its first asynchronous learning day on Wednesday.

More: Williamson County parents criticize online school program

More: Number of Williamson County students in quarantine doubles, staffing is main concern

More: Williamson parents protest online vendor Edgenuity ahead of special meeting

Kerri Bartlett covers issues affecting children, families, education and government in Williamson County. She can be contacted at [email protected], 615-308-8324 or follow @keb1414 on Twitter.

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