13 December 2021
Howard County has just implemented an experimental policy to combat the overwhelming workload teachers face. Starting December 15th, there will be a half day once a month on a Wednesday. The announcement was made on November third but many questions have been left unanswered.
“We need more resources. We need more time. We need more followup,” said Mrs. Chaudhry, a liaison to the Howard County Education Association (HCEA), or Teacher’s Union at Atholton.
At the beginning of the year, it became apparent teachers and students were overwhelmed by the amount of work. Students and staff members are struggling to go from four classes to seven, or “zero to sixty” said Mr. Mitchell, a social studies teacher at Atholton. According to Mrs. Chaudhry, HCEA brought up these concerns to HCPSS, then the process of adjusting the schedule began.
Half day Wednesdays allow Howard County schools to still fulfill the required student hours set by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). The Board chose Wednesday because it fit the schedules of the elementary schools the best. The goal of the policy is to give teachers time to grade, plan lessons, and take care of their personal wellbeing.
The AHS community has shown gratitude for the time off to complete work or focus on their mental wellbeing. Atholton social studies teacher teacher Mrs. Bopst spoke on behalf of her students. She described high schoolers as being in a “pressure cooker of stress” and hopes that the half days will ease that stress.
Many workplaces in the United States are adapting to the concept of taking care of one’s mental health. Mr. Mitchell said, “The workplace has adjusted in the professional world to… having flexibility in the workplace and working around people’s schedules… I don’t see any reason why the educational system can’t also be as flexible to help students and to help everybody really adjust to changing times.” HCPSS seems to be making steps to address the mental health concern for teachers and students. At this point in time, the half day Wednesday policy will only be in effect during the 2021-2022 school year. Staff and students are hoping that the policy will remain in HCPSS. Mrs. Stewart, a chemistry teacher at Atholton, said that the policy should continue if it “accomplishes the goals they set out.”
Taking care of one’s mental health is important, but many teachers are more excited about the ability to get more work done. Mrs. Stewart said that she is appreciative of the time that would be built into her day. Students are also hoping that teachers will benefit from this new policy. Sitara Canada, an Atholton freshman, said “they [teachers] have to give a lot of homework to students and they have to grade, so that’s a good day to do it.” The half day Wednesday policy has received a majority of positive reactions, but some have expressed doubts.
Eva Mendoza, a sophomore at Atholton, is concerned about how this policy will affect the elementary school students. “I know kids who are in elementary school and little kids who don’t have anyone to watch them, so their parents are going to have to take a half day, not go into work that day, or get childcare. That’s money and time that a lot of people don’t have,” she said. This concern has been echoed by parents, with or without young children. After school programs for elementary school students will mitigate this problem, but, unfortunately, will not eradicate it.
Another concern is students not taking advantage of the half days to get their work done. The Atholton student body and staff have acknowledged that this is inevitable. Some argue that the day isn’t specifically for students to do work, so it isn’t a problem in the first place. No matter what stance individuals take on the issue, they could follow Mr. Mitchell’s advice: “You have to be okay with the good and the bad.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum, some want this policy to be a gateway for more extreme policies. Mrs. Stewart suggested later start times for schools in Howard County. Her reasoning was that later start times are “more developmentally appropriate for teenagers” based on research she has done. According to Mrs. Stewart, the board has discussed the possibility of later start times. Despite this, nothing has been done to implement later start times.
The general attitude towards the half day Wednesday policy seems to be positive, despite the doubts and concerns that some community members have. Hopefully, both teachers and students will benefit from the policy.