As an elementary-level schoolteacher for 33 years in the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), I must share some thoughts regarding Superintendent Garza’s push to eliminate Monday early closing for elementary students (“Teacher voices lacking in district’s schedule proposal,” Fairfax County Times, June 20-22, 2014):
1. The most important aspect is the fact that FCPS elementary teachers have had NO input into this decision. Eliminating Monday early closings will certainly impact not only their planning but also their collaboration with other teachers, training opportunities, and effectiveness as teachers.
2. The final bell in elementary schools does not ring “2.5 hours earlier on Mondays.” It rings only 2 hours earlier. What is missing from the article is that a half hour was added to each of the other four days when Monday early closing was instituted, meaning that students did not lose any instructional time.
3. Ten years ago, when Monday early closing was under one of its frequent attacks, I “did the math.” Most students attend elementary school for seven years. Since several school holidays occur on Mondays, students actually have about 11 more school days with that extra half hour added to those four days (The Fairfax Journal, March 24, 1994).
4. In 1989, during an earlier assault on Monday early closing, I surveyed the teachers in my elementary school as to just how they spent those hours of planning time on Monday afternoons. In just one school, teachers reported over 70 different activities—all school-related, all for the benefit of the students—that occurred during those uninterrupted hours.
5. It should be pointed out that the two hours of early closing is more than that in terms of planning time. It is a minimum of 2.5 hours (in my school, 1:30-4:00 p/m/), and few of us ever left at 4:00.
6. Although elementary teachers are supposed to have a half hour of “planning time” daily, in reality this does not happen. Planning time occurs when the students are in music, PE, or the library for the half hour. However, the teacher is required to walk the students to the class and pick them up afterwards, which cuts precious minutes off their half hour.
Also, due to scheduling problems, on some days a teacher may not have a planning time at all, while on another day the planning time will be two half-hours, usually not consecutive. Yet even if they were consecutive, the teacher must still accompany the students from one class to another.
7. I note that the Times article states that “…teachers would be guaranteed 240 minutes per week for individual planning and 75 minutes per week for collaborative work.” This equals 63 minutes a day, 33 minutes more than the half hour they now have. Where would a teacher’s students be located during those times? Who would be in charge of them? Would this necessitate hiring more personnel? Would the new hires be teachers, instructional assistants, or caretakers?
8. I was extremely disappointed that neither teacher organization now supports Monday early closing. In 1997, the Fairfax Education Association (FEA) was “firmly committed” to the continuance of early closing (FEAtures, Feb. 1997), and the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT) was likewise supportive of keeping Monday early closing. Have teachers’ jobs become less in need of this valuable planning time in the ensuing years? Hardly. (See for example “Half full or half empty?” Fairfax County Times, Aug. 2-4, 2013.) Ask any teacher about those extra duties, responsibilities, preparation, and paperwork that have become part of their job!
9. There does not appear to have been any significant cost to FCPS when Monday early closing was instituted in the early 1970’s. In 1990, the cost for eliminating early closing was estimated to be between $5.6 and $7.2 million (“School Plan’s Price,” The Washington Post, Nov. 8, 1990). What would be the cost today, nearly 25 years later? Likely much greater.
Eliminating Monday early closing would cause hardship for the elementary teachers, a considerable expense for FCPS, and no gain in instructional time for students.
Roxanne H. Cramer, Fairfax