23 April 2021
The Be the Change club was able to have a very successful start during the coronavirus pandemic–that is until February 18, when their sponsor broke the news. Work to Rule was about to start, and their club (and most others) were on a rocky path ahead with no sponsor.
The Howard County Education Association’s (HCEA) Work to Rule resolution was ratified on February 22. Under the resolution, participating teachers were instructed to strictly follow their contractual hours, entering the school at exactly 7:25 am and leaving precisely at 3:00 pm. After the school day and on the weekends, they are told not to answer emails, grade work, or participate in any activities for which they are not compensated.
In the resolution, HCEA outlined the reasoning behind implementing Work to Rule, including that “Howard County educators have no confidence in the Superintendent’s hybrid learning plan” and that the county should “ensure educators are immunized before returning them to buildings.” Since the county didn’t meet these requests, the teachers have resolved to work their contracts and nothing more. The biggest impact on students is a potential lack of timely responses from their teachers and the loss of sponsors for clubs.
Grace Rua, a junior at Atholton and co-leader of the Be the Change club, has had to work around Work to Rule. The club continues to have meetings but is functioning strictly unaffiliated with Atholton. When she found out about Work to Rule, she “was a little bit stressed out because it’s been kind of hard with the pandemic and I knew that the Work to Rule would be another stressor for the club.” But she doesn’t hold any grudges because she “knew it was for a good cause.” Most clubs don’t currently have access to their funding at the school, and some club leaders have even discussed using their own money for their club’s activities. “Any funding we come up with right now is just going to be outside of the club and money has to come from leaders directly instead of from the school. So that’s been a little bit hard to manage,” Grace said.
Ms. Chaudhry, one of six building union representatives and a teacher at Atholton, thought that even without sponsors, “kids can always talk to each other in any club,” but a few clubs, including Green Team, which Grace is a part of, have halted meetings entirely since they lost their sponsor.
Work to Rule is also affecting students outside of school-associated clubs. Luke Edwards, a junior at Atholton, needed a form to be signed. He emailed his teacher over the weekend but received no response. “It caused me a fair amount of anxiety because I needed to get a signed form in for something, and I just couldn’t,” he explained. Thankfully, the program for which he needed the form had many other students with the same problem, so the program offered everyone an extension.“It’s good that other programs have been accommodating [Work to Rule],” Luke said.
Luke is also in Model UN, which normally has in-person conferences. Once those begin again, he worries that finding organized transportation to events is going to be especially hard, since there will be no teacher in charge. With all of these struggles, Edwards finds that Work to Rule is not the best approach, as “it’s more affecting the students, and we didn’t have any say in if [teachers] get a vaccine or not.”
However, Ms. Chaudhry explained that implementing Work to Rule gives the message to their employer “that we are willingly doing a lot of things for free, and no other profession does that and we just need to remind you of that.” By only doing what they are contractually obligated to do, educators are showing HCPSS just how far beyond their required responsibilities teachers go in their day-to-day job. Not only that, but “it’s the only leverage teachers have in the state of Maryland,” she added. Since teachers are prohibited from striking in Maryland, there is a limit on what action they can take.
That being said, not all teachers necessarily like following Work to Rule. The action is “probably best for the cause, but the worst for the students,” one teacher at Atholton explained. They are slightly uncomfortable with the situation and mentioned that it feels “weirdly selfish” to take the action the HCEA is leading.
Ms. Chaudhry doesn’t like limiting the help she can offer students either. “We still want to do it, that’s where our heart is,” she clarified. She absolutely hates saying no to her students. She’s had to decline writing a few college recommendations, “which has an impact” that she would not like to be making.
She further explained that the decision to implement Work to Rule was made with the kids and the community in mind. “The last time we did this was in 1991. So it’s something that we take very seriously.” Vaccinations are vital so that teachers can be at their best and ensure the safety of the community.
Another teacher described it as being “pretty damn hard” to follow the resolution completely. “I feel like I’m not being as good of a teacher,” they said. Teachers are feeling a lot of stress and guilt, as they have to limit the amount of time they spend on their job. “Despite how important this fight is,” the teacher said, “It’s difficult to suddenly just drop it all.”
Other teachers are reporting to Ms. Chaudhry that all of their activities before Work to Rule were “really impacting [them] personally and [their] own physical and mental wellbeing” and are needing the rest Work to Rule has forced them to take. Ms. Chaudhry agreed that the mental health benefits towards teachers offer another positive to the resolution.
As a student in Howard County during Work to Rule, it’s important to take advantage of asynchronous support time and be understanding of the teachers. Teachers have three weeks to grade assignments, so expecting a longer turnaround time in between the submission and the grade is a good idea. Emails might not be responded to immediately, but teachers will get around to it when they can. As Grace puts it, just make sure you’re “understanding that this is a really hard time for everyone and we’re all going to get through it together. It’s not going to be permanent, just adjusting for right now.”
Slowly but surely, the resolution is helping Howard County teachers make progress towards their goals. HCEA has already succeeded in negotiating a raise in the compensation from $25 to $55 for staff covering another class, so in addition to working toward teacher safety, the union is using Work to Rule as a successful negotiation tool.
Although HCEA is actively negotiating their contact, the requests in the resolution are large; there is much that is yet to be resolved. It appears for students this resolution is here for the foreseeable future, so don’t count on your favorite club meeting officially anytime soon.