Increased class sizes, a longer school day, stacks of new paperwork and more special needs children -- accompanied by fewer dedicated aides -- are all adding up to be a burdensome equation for local elementary school instructors, according to a teachers' union official.
"We're trying to accomplish too many things in too short an amount of time," said Kathy Patterson, the Mountain View Educators Association representative for Benjamin Bubb Elementary School. "It's overwhelming."
Patterson, who teaches first grade at Bubb, said she has to work 60 hours a week to keep up with the Mountain View Whisman School District's requirements.
At a district board meeting on Oct. 21, Patterson addressed the Mountain View Whisman school board and administration, telling them that she and her colleagues are overworked. In a sign of support, teachers in the audience gave her a standing ovation, which lasted about a minute.
"I acknowledge that teachers are working very hard," Craig Goldman, the district superintendent, said. "That being said, our primary responsibility is to service children and ensure their success."
Ensuring the success of students in the district, he said, "is very hard work."
This year, in a cost-saving measure, kindergarten, first-, second- and third-grade teachers have seen their class sizes increase by an average of five students.
The new district-wide bell schedule, which was designed to streamline bus routes and cut down on traffic, means that Patterson's school day is now 15 minutes longer than it was last year.
Patterson was particularly critical of the school district's system for tracking classroom improvement, known as Plan, Do, Study, Act, or PDSA.
The new district system requires Patterson to identify a subject area in her curriculum that is in need of improvement at the beginning of each month, set an improvement goal, articulate that goal to district officials as well as students, and achieve the goal before each month's end. This, Patterson said, requires copious amounts of paperwork and takes away from time that could be spent on regular lesson plans.
On top of that, Patterson said, an increase in the number of special needs students in her classroom has proven to be a hurdle.
"It's very, very difficult," she said.
Patterson said she recognizes that there is room for improvement in her classroom and in district schools overall. She disagrees with the district's approach, however.
"We're trying to accomplish too many things in a short amount of time," Patterson said. "We're just feeling like we're scattered."
The solution, according to Patterson, is to "take a few things off the teacher's plate," and work on one goal over a longer period of time. "If we could have one big focus for everyone, it would really help everyone out."
Goldman acknowledged that the PDSA system is new and that perhaps some kinks could be worked out. However, Goldman believes it is important insofar as it helps the district achieve the educational markers set by the state. He said that PDSA is not unreasonable or fundamentally flawed in any way.
"I don't think that at a core level PDSA and instructional planning are inconsistent with what needs to happen to ensure quality instruction and successful outcomes for children," he said.
While Goldman acknowledges the challenges posed by special needs children being mainstreamed into regular classes, "I think the district is doing an excellent job with its special education operation. But we are always looking toward improving the quality of education for all of our children."