MD Education Department: grant schedule waiver, reinstate teacher professional days


Graphic by Selina Ding.

By Zoe Kaufmann

As the end of the second quarter approaches, consider what goes into your grades. Not just formatives, summatives and frantic emails to teachers—consider the graders, some of whom have found themselves overburdened with work by MCPS’s reduction in the number of professional days.

Professional days, which students have off and teachers use to plan classes and grade assignments, are vital to the quality of teaching and students’ education. The Maryland Department of Education should grant MCPS a waiver to begin the school year before Labor Day, which would allow MCPS to reinstate a number of crucial professional days.

In 2016, Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order requiring Maryland schools to begin after Labor Day and end before June 15 while still providing at least 180 days of instruction. These restrictions forced school systems, including MCPS, to cut back on spring and winter breaks and decrease the number of professional days.

The reduction in work days burdened many Whitman teachers this year, especially those teaching writing or assessment-heavy courses. Requiring teachers to grade the same amount of work in a shorter period of time forced some teachers to speed through grades or grade fewer assignments, providing less feedback to students. In some French classes, only the reading and listening parts of the IPAs (county assessments similar to RQAs for language classes) were graded for the first quarter, despite students also taking writing and speaking components, French teacher Madame Beach said.

That constructive criticism is vital to improving: if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, how can you fix it in the future?

Fewer professional days also means a reduction in time for planning classes, which worries some teachers. Planning is an essential element of a well-paced course, and decreasing the amount of time spent on it harms the quality of instruction. Preparation time provides teachers opportunities to adjust the curriculum to students and to be responsive to their needs, but limiting it makes that difficult to manage, Montgomery County Educators Association Vice President Jennifer Martin said. Martin, an ESOL teacher at Gaithersburg High School, added that with up to 150 students each semester, time to plan classes is essential for high school teachers to connect with students. Reinstating professional days ensures teachers have enough time to fully adjust.

Professional days also provide a much needed break for students. At the end of a hectic quarter, a day off can allow students to relax and recharge. Many students are stressed by Whitman’s high-pressure atmosphere, and removing an outlet for students to decompress will exacerbate this, harming their education; in fact, researchers at the University of Hamburg found that learning in stressful conditions hurts memory and forces students to shift from a flexible to a more rigid learning style.

Proponents of Hogan’s executive order claim that not having school on professional days decreases students’ productivity and education. But little work actually gets done near the end of the quarter as teachers tend to move towards grading old assignments rather than assigning new ones.

Giving teachers enough time to teach and students an environment in which they can learn is essential to a good education for every student. Reverting to the previous schedule and reintroducing the full number of professional days is, at least, a step in the right direction.