Walkersville High School science teacher Scott McIntosh normally spends at least two hours per week after school helping students review the material for his Advanced Placement class in environmental science.
But last week — when he joined thousands of Frederick County teachers in protest — he had to change his approach.
Because he couldn't stay beyond his paid hours, as part of the “work-to-rule” protest, McIntosh tried to carve out time in his work day to tutor students. Racing against the clock on Friday, he was spitting out hundreds of words per minute, as he tried to condense pages of complex review material into 30 minutes.
“I have pushed all my AP tutoring into my flex period,” he said. “That is about a quarter of the time that I normally spend on this. But at least I am getting something in.”
Frederick County teachers have started work-to-rule protest action, meaning they only will work the hours for which they are paid. And some students — like those in McIntosh's classroom — are starting to feel the effects.
Courtney Wallace, a senior at Walkersville High School who takes an AP class in probability and statistics, said because of the protest her teacher will no longer have time for testing and retesting as he prepares students for the AP tests this spring.
“I am not naturally talented at math, and I am freaking out,” Wallace said. “I will have to learn things faster.”
The teachers' protest, which began March 30 — the day before spring break — does not affect instruction during the regular school day. But it already has led to cancellations of activities for which teachers volunteer outside of their paid hours, such as the Big Sweep initiative for the Science National Honor Society. The clean-up initiative, similar to a walk-a-thon, was canceled because it required teacher participation during the weekend.
The protest also is posing a problem for students who need community service hours, and students who tutor their peers because they all need teacher supervision outside regular school hours.
Tutoring sessions for semester-long AP classes also are affected. Although some teachers are trying to soften the blow by cramming review sessions into their regular work day, they fear if the protest drags on it could harm student performance during AP exams in May.
Walkersville High School math teacher Mark Cronk, who normally spends hours after school testing and retesting students for his AP statistics and probability class said there will be no way to continue to do that in work-to-rule mode.
“I budget three hours a day just to prepare for this AP class,” he said. “By working-to-rule I will be following a regular work schedule … I just won't have time to think of the individual student.”
Like the majority of Frederick County teachers, Cronk supports the protest and thinks county and school officials this year treated teachers in a way that left educators with no other choice.
“We just feel like we have been slapped in the face,” said Cronk, a former Baltimore County teacher who says he came to Frederick because he didn't just want to do the bare minimum for students.
“I truly feel that what I am doing is trying to save education in Frederick County,” he said.
The Frederick County Teachers Association organized the protest to raise awareness about the lack of a pay increase for teachers in the school board's proposed $515.1 million fiscal 2013 budget. The board passed the proposal in February and ignored schools Superintendent Theresa Alban's recommendation to provide raises for staff.
Alban's initial recommendation would have given all school staff a raise of 2 to 3 percent, but in an effort to avoid increasing class sizes, the board slashed the superintendent's recommended salary resource pool from $10.8 million to $5.1 million.
The board's budget proposal for fiscal 2013 also includes possible furlough days for teachers, as well as adjustments that ultimately would lower teacher salaries.
Frederick County teachers have not had a raise since 2009, and according to union officials, the $40,706 starting salary for new teachers is among the lowest in the state.
Although teachers are concerned about the effect the protest will have on students, they also think they need to stand up for their rights as professionals.
“We are being forced to choose between our own family and everyone else's kids. And it tears us apart,” McIntosh said.
Frederick High School teacher Matt Johnston agreed and said working-to-rule will be just as hard for teachers as it is for students.
“This goes against the grain of everything I want to be as a teacher,” said Johnson, who was Frederick County's Teacher of the Year for 2007-08.
Johnston who often answers emails with questions from students and parents late at night, fears he will not be able to ignore students if they ask for help. So he will not be checking his email except during his work hours.
“This is going to be difficult for me,” he said. “It is awkward for me not to do everything I can for a student. It will be uncomfortable. But there is a bigger picture than that.”
While teachers are drafting their strategy for protest, some Frederick County school officials have expressed concern about the impact of the protest on students.
On March 23, Alban sent an email informing parents about the protest and what it will mean for students. While she assured parents that teachers will continue their “bell-to-bell” school-day instruction as usual and will continue to help with activities for which they are paid, such as National Honor Society and athletics, Alban also warned they might see a slower turnaround in reporting grades and returning emails.
School board president Angie Fish, who was the only board member to vote against the budget proposal in February, said she also is concerned about the effect of the teacher protest on student instruction. But she visited several Frederick County schools on Friday and felt that despite the action, teachers were still able to provide quality classroom instruction during their regular work day.
“The major issues are going to be for our after school activities,” she said. “Unfortunately, that is obviously going to negatively impact our students.”
But now that the school board has started negotiations with the teachers' union, school officials will do their best to try and reach a common ground with teachers, Fish said.
“Our hope is that this will end quickly,” she said.