Dist. 11 teachers stop work outside of duty day

Dissatisfied with a lack of progress in its 2013-2015 contract negotiations, Anoka-Hennepin District 11 teachers have stopped working beyond the duty day.

Teachers will no longer draft lesson plans or grade assignments much past the last school bell. For now, it’s the end of teachers volunteering at after-school events and remaining available via email to answer questions throughout the evening.

“At this point, we need to do whatever we can to get to a fair and timely settlement,” said Julie Blaha, president of Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota, the local teachers’ union.

Last week, AHEM called for teachers to “work to rule,” or do only what is required by contract until a settlement is reached.

The hope is that this action will show the district and the larger community all that teachers do to help students succeed, Blaha said.

AHEM has tried other tacks to show that teachers stand united – everything from packing school board meetings, clad in red, to inviting all of its nearly 3,000 members to attend bargaining sessions.

Members remain unimpressed by the district’s offers, in which all salary schedule increases are accompanied by decreases in district contributions to health insurance plans, according to AHEM negotiators.

After six months of unsuccessful bargaining, it’s time for a new strategy, Blaha said.

“At this point, it seems that we need to make a stronger statement,” she said.

Teachers began working to rule Jan. 21, the day before Anoka-Hennepin’s first mediation session and 13th bargaining session overall. The last time teachers employed this practice was in 2009.

If done correctly, work to rule should serve a dual purpose: “If you do it well, it can not only show a level of concern about bargaining, but it can really expose ways you can improve your school,” Blaha said.

She has seen it fulfill both purposes in the past.

During contract negotiations in 2007, when Blaha was a math teacher at Jackson Middle School in Champlin, she kept an online diary about her experiences working to rule. She recognized that some of her well-intended efforts did not pay off.

For example, Blaha said she spent hours creating intricate bulletin boards at which students merely glanced. Working to rule, she didn’t have as much time, so she asked students if they might like to take ownership of the board.

“The bulletin board[s] may not have been quite as Martha Stewart as I might have made [them], but they were more meaningful to the students,” she said.

In the last few weeks, Laura Bratland, a fifth-grade teacher at Andover Elementary School, has been more discerning about how she spends her time at school, making bulletin boards more interactive, like Blaha; creating classroom calendars every month instead of every week; and determining which work she should assess versus which work students may be able to take a look at themselves in class.

School starts at 8:10 a.m., but Bratland is there at 7 a.m. every morning and often doesn’t make it home until 6:30 p.m., late for dinner.

“My husband’s not always real happy about it,” Bratland said. “You try to do the best you can.”

This experience has highlighted some work-life balance issues for Bratland and confirmed the tremendous pressure teachers put on themselves to deliver for their students, she said.

Superintendent Dennis Carlson recognizes the extra time teachers and other district employees devote to their professions. “All our salaried employees work well beyond their assigned work day,” he said.

Teachers volunteer their time for nearly all after-school activities – math and reading nights, open houses, etc.

“We’ve created a school system that’s over-reliant on teacher volunteerism,” Blaha said. Parents could have a hand in some of those math and reading nights, she said. “Sometimes when teachers step back, it gives parents an opportunity to step up,” Blaha said. “I know our parents want to be there for our students, and work to rule can help us step back to let them do what they’re ready and willing to do.”

Students may feel the work-to-rule action at play outside of the school day when teachers aren’t readily available to answer questions and write letters of recommendation, but Carlson doesn’t think it will have an impact on students’ learning, he said.

Ultimately, “we want the district to come to the table and work with our negotiators,” Bratland said of work to rule’s purpose.

The next mediation session is scheduled for Feb. 6.

Olivia Koester is at [email protected]