Teachers say heavy workload in Montgomery Co. schools made worse by vacancies

School’s been in session for just over two months, and already, Montgomery County, Maryland, teachers say they are exhausted.

Jennifer Martin, president of the Montgomery County Education Association which represents teachers and substitutes, said that under “normal” circumstances, a teacher’s day is packed.

A typical day for teachers includes planning periods each day, which is not free time, Martin said. Teachers race to get the lesson ready, get some grading done, contact parents, tend to a child who might need extra support, or to tackle administrative tasks.

“You name it, we do it all,” Martin said.

But this year has been especially stressful, with teachers and even administrators being called upon to cover classes.

The problem is the hundreds of vacancies across the school system.

“We have many more unfilled full-time positions this year than we normally would at this time of year,” she said.

Chris Cram, spokesman for the Montgomery County schools, confirms the openings, saying that staffing shortages are having a direct impact on the school day.

In an email to WTOP, Cram explained that there are 325 vacancies for full-time teachers, and that despite having a pool of some 3,000 substitute teachers, on any given day, only 50% of the needed subs will decide to fill a vacant slot. Typically, there will be at least 100 requests across the system for substitutes.

When substitutes don’t answer the call to cover a teacher’s classes for the day, that means that teachers end up giving up a planning period, or even lunches, to cover a class. Even administrators have stepped in.

Teachers are close to a breaking point, according to Martin.

“I don’t think that anyone expects to be pampered as a teacher,” she said. “But it is really dispiriting, exhausting, frustrating, when we are not set up for success in our work.”

It’s at the point where Martin is increasingly hearing from teachers, who have decades in the system, that they contemplating leaving the profession.

“We’re really concerned that this will be a time of the ‘Great Resignation.’ A lot of folks are saying to me, ‘I’m looking to see, you know, can I retire yet?'” Martin said.

Not only are teachers feeling under water as they tackle extra academic tasks, but they are also dealing with fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re still not out of the woods; the kids still aren’t vaccinated,” Martin said. “A lot of the COVID mitigation work, that is something that school staff are having to handle. Everybody from the principal to the building service worker and everybody in between is handling extra duties,” including contact tracing.

“We’re being asked to do the impossible, and we need to have our teachers set up for success so our students are set up for success” Martin said.

In his email, Cram acknowledged the burden on all staff members, saying that teachers and administrators pick up the slack to cover classes when substitutes aren’t available.

“That is even more pressure on schools. Teachers, principals, employees in general are human,” Cram wrote.

Cram added that the school system is working hard to fill vacancies, “deliberately leveraging partnerships with our local colleges and universities to hire December graduates” and snap up qualified candidates from “existing higher education partnerships.”

However, Cram said the current recruiting situation statewide is “competitive.”

More Coronavirus News

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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