“I felt like I was treading water”: Working Conditions in the Middle School

Georgia Roy is a 7th-grade seventh-grade math teacher in the middle school at U-32. Part of her responsibilities includes administering lunch for students. 


U-32’s middle school lunch period is broken into 3 different 20 minute periods. Students eat in the classroom.  The first period is designated for eating, the second for recess, and the third for silent reading. 


“Covid made it very difficult,” she said. “I passed out the lunches, scarfed down my lunch, and had to make sure they cleaned off their tables again.”


On the days where she wasn’t on recess duty, she used the time to plan for the upcoming classes.


“I felt like I was treading water, and getting really tired,” she said. “My head was just barely above– you know, when you’re getting tired, you put your head back and you’re like, are you still breathing?” 


During the first semester, Georgia and other 7th grade teachers struggled to find time in their schedules to eat and plan classes. The original schedule wasn’t manageable, so the administration tried different solutions to improve it. 


While the 7th-grade students follow their own schedule, with 6 bands per day, the 8th-grade students follow the same 7-period schedule as the high school. The additional band included in the 8th-grade schedule allows time for teachers to eat lunch and plan. However, for many seventh grade teachers, including Georgia, the schedule meant a planning period first or last band, and teaching bands the rest of the day with a brief break for lunch with the students. 

Middle school teacher hands out paper towels for students to clean their tables

Amy Molina was one of the lead administrators in charge of creating the middle school schedule. “Guidance [from the state] was very limited,” she said, “and it always felt like information was two weeks after we really needed it.” 


The seventh grade had more students than any other class so the school landed on the idea of small pods that required teachers to constantly be supervising kids, and took away duty-free lunches. 


These working conditions violated parts of the teacher’s contract, and a grievance was filed by the Washington Central Educators Union. 


Kate McCann is the co-president of the WCEU. She said the main violation was around the amount of extra duty that teachers took on per week. Section 9.13 of the contract states that teachers can be asked to work 45 minutes of extra duty per week. This year, seventh-grade teachers reported doing nearly 600 minutes of extra duty because of lunch supervision. In addition, they were not given enough planning time and were not granted a duty-free lunch which is also promised in the contract. “ They are having lunch while they are supervising students,” McCann said.

The Contract that the teachers signed

The teacher union filed a grievance which resulted in the district making Wednesdays a half-day for the middle and elementary schools for the month of December. This allowed for teachers to meet with each other and plan classes, but the rest of the week was still a struggle.


 In November, Kate McCann said, “They’re still serving well beyond what they should be for duty, so more needs to be done.”


 After the holiday break, teachers were given the duty-free lunch that is outlined in the teaching contract. 


Molina commented on the change, saying, “Now all of our middle school teachers have 30 minutes, which is sometimes unusual because in previous years it was longer than that, so they’re still working pretty hard.” 


However, Wednesdays returned to a full day. This took away the ability for 7th-grade teachers to coordinate with their teams. 


Molina said that the administration would continue to listen to the middle school teachers, but certain aspects, specifically the Wednesday schedule, was out of her hands.  


For teachers like Georgia Roy, this change has made them hopeful. 


“Having a dedicated duty free lunch has made things a lot easier for me.” Roy said, “but I’m concerned that our time to meet as a team will not be honored. Overall, I do believe that this schedule is the best we can do right now, it just isn’t perfect.” 


Update: On January 13th, 2021, Bryan Olkowski, the Washington Central Superintendent announced the return of half-days on the following dates: 1/27, 2/10, 3/10, 3/24, 4/17. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.