Issaquah teachers say workload is too much

November 20, 2013

By Neil Pierson

New: Nov. 20, 10:53 a.m.

Members of the Issaquah Education Association met with the Issaquah School Board for an hour last week, and much of the discussion centered on what the teacher’s union president termed “unsustainable workloads” for teachers.

During a study session prior to the school board’s Nov. 13 meeting, the IEA – a union of more than 1,000 certificated teachers – spoke about the results of a bargaining survey conducted this fall. More than 70 percent of Issaquah’s teachers responded, and a few common complaints emerged.

Washington’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards, along with a new evaluation system for teachers and principals, have led to increased workloads and a general sense of overwhelming stress among educators, IEA officials said.

Common Core aims to have a uniform definition of reading and math knowledge for K-12 students throughout the country. All public school districts in Washington will be fully implementing Common Core in the 2014-15 school year.

IEA President Phyllis Runyon said she’s received several emails from teachers this year that have made her cry, and there’s a prevailing sense that teachers aren’t alone in their inability to meet demands.

“There’s some satisfaction in learning that everyone has the same problem as you, which is really kind of sad,” Runyon said.

The teachers union is in a contract bargaining year, and expects to begin negotiations with district officials early in 2014.

Longer work days appear to be a more common complaint among elementary-school teachers, the IEA indicated. Implementing new curriculum to match up with Common Core assessments is being done on a one-subject-per-year basis, but because K-5 educators teach all subjects, they’re not getting a break.

Some teachers have complained of losing sleep or not having enough time with their families; one teacher apparently resigned because she wasn’t seeing her child until bedtime every night, Runyon said.

“I’m hearing pretty consistently at the elementary level that they’re working 12-hour days, and if they don’t want to work weekends, then they’re working until 9 o’clock at night on Fridays,” Runyon said.

“It’s incredibly stressful, and it’s taking a real health and job satisfaction effect on teachers that have done this for years.”

IEA Vice President Doug Jones, a social studies teacher at Issaquah High School, said elementary teachers typically form deeper attachments to their students. While secondary teachers become important mentors, he said, there’s not usually the same nurturing, caring relationship with students.

Jones believes teachers are becoming increasingly frustrated and burning out because of the workload, and the survey results have borne that out.

“This isn’t healthy for our teachers or our students,” he said. “We were surprised at the breadth, depth and severity of the issues. … We really have to fix this one.”

Gary Arthur, an IEA representative who teaches fifth grade at Issaquah Valley Elementary, noted a common frustration among his peers around the district’s new science curriculum. Equipment has been difficult to use, and while teachers have found solutions during collaborative time, they’re also at school more often in the evenings and on the weekends. They’re also taking time away from their professional development schedule – necessary tasks that can help them achieve a higher pay grade.

“When we get that number of stories saying the same thing … it does make you wonder, ‘What is going on?’” Arthur said.

The IEA spelled out some solutions it gleaned from the recent survey.

One idea, Arthur said, would be to reduce class sizes. Teachers often spend an inordinate amount of time with special-needs students, a problem exacerbated by an already large classroom.

Teachers have also suggested an organized structure for writing lessons. Marie Duke, an IEA representative who teaches kindergarten at Issaquah Valley, said she has too much reading to do in order to plan the next day’s lesson, and she doesn’t have enough time or help to administer tests.

She also believes the expectation for half-day kindergarteners to learn as much as full-day kindergarteners is unrealistic.

“It’s apples and oranges,” Duke said.

Superintendent Ron Thiele said he and fellow administrators are sympathetic to teacher needs. They’ve spent a lot of time identifying problems in order to solve them, and he thinks everyone wants the same things: Good teachers, good students and high expectations in a healthy environment where no one feels overwhelmed.

“We’re not deaf to what we’re hearing,” Thiele said. “It isn’t coming as a shock either.”

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6 Responses to “Issaquah teachers say workload is too much”

  1. Peter Molchan on November 20th, 2013 12:48 pm

    My high school graduating class had a total of 30 students. 90% of us scored better than 1,000 on our SATs and 78% went on to college. Now many of the class sizes have been reduced to less than 20 students and yet the teachers are saying they are overworked. How is it our teachers back then were able to provide a quality education to their students where now they can’t. This seems more of a ramp-up to contract negotiations than a ligitimate complaint.

  2. David Cooke on November 20th, 2013 1:44 pm

    From the article: “Phyllis Runyon said she’s received several emails from teachers this year that have made her cry,”


    “Some teachers have complained of losing sleep or not having enough time with their families”

    So are we to assume the 180 day work year is too hard on them? Maybe they should get jobs in the private sector where folks don’t get Summer off. And in no case does a crying woman make a valid point for any argument.

  3. Michael MacInnes on November 20th, 2013 8:28 pm


    Can you please find out what the Washington Education Association is doing about this? My wife is a teacher in Bethel and were hearing the same thing.

  4. Chad Nasinec on November 21st, 2013 2:29 pm

    To David, I have taught for 14 years and not one single day has been less than 8 hours and not one single year 180 days.
    To Peter, it is not the class sizes, nor students that have changed over the recent years, but the education policy set up by those who do not have an accurate understanding of the day to day realism of teaching.

  5. Michael MacInnes on November 21st, 2013 6:40 pm

    David Cooke- 180 day work year? Where have you been? Have you ever volunteered in your local classroom? May you should try it, it will be a real eye opener for you.

    Peter Molchan- Less than 20 students now? Go to the website and see for yourself.

    Both of you are in the dark and clueless.

  6. Concerned for those around Peter on November 22nd, 2013 7:59 am

    “My high school graduating class had a total of 30 students. 90% of us scored better than 1,000 on our SATs and 78% went on to college.”

    -78% of 30 students would be 23.4 students….hmm
    -Class size of less than 20? Where have you seen this? In a private school that costs 30k a year?

    Go spend a week with any public school teacher and your tone will change

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