by Mallory Butcher, staff writer

Substitute teacher Mr. Jordan Mihalik sits in the classroom of the Integrated English Language Arts 10 teacher Mrs. Tracie McFerren, covering her absence on February 10. He reads the novel Fahrenheit 451 to help answer student questions for their assignment. Below him are instructions spread across the table left by McFerren.

FEBRUARY 2022 — During the first week that Bio-Med Science Academy returned from winter break, five teachers called off work. Due to the shortage of substitute teachers, fellow educators were obligated by the administration to relinquish their planning periods to cover for the absentees rather than the previous volunteer request. One week later, on Jan. 14, the Rootstown campus held a “Digital Day” due to the numerous staff members being unable to attend school. On Jan. 27 and 28, nine teachers were absent.

Sophomore Ella Wright noticed the difference in planning time for her teachers. Wright recounted, “I feel like most teachers don’t have quite as much time, so the lessons get a little messed up.”

When calling for volunteers, the Chief Operating Officer of Bio-Med’s grades 10 through 12, Mrs. Lindsey McLaughlin, typically sends an email to all teachers with information about open class periods that need to be filled. Teachers who have planning periods that align with open classes are able to respond with their intent to cover the period.

Enlisted teachers, on the other hand, were charged with their duties by the administration rather than offering their time. Teachers were determined based on if their planning period overlapped with an open class.

“There were so many staff out we couldn’t [wait for volunteers]. We didn’t have time,” McLaughlin explained.

After assigning teachers to class periods, Mrs. Charmayne Polen, the chief operating officer of grades seven through nine, Mr. Randy Rininger, the dean of students, and McLaughlin are responsible for filling in for teachers during periods no one else could. Teachers who cover for an absentee during their planning period are able to leave early with the final dismissal of students at 3:15 p.m. instead of leaving at the usually required 3:45 p.m. 

In addition, McLaughlin highlighted that, “Every full-time staff and faculty member was given a $1,000 bonus in December, and every part-time staff member was given a $500 bonus in December to help compensate for the lost time.”

According to a staff newsletter sent in December of 2021, the bonuses were to recognize and show appreciation for the hard work of the staff and its “continued efforts to support our students.” 

Another way Bio-Med compensated for the loss of planning time this year has been through the use of planning days.

These are assigned days where an educator would grade assignments and plan lessons for their class. On these days, the teacher is allowed to work off campus. Each teacher has been scheduled for one planning day during the current school year. 

Integrated English Language Arts 10 teacher Mrs. Tracie McFerren described her planning day as “half a day of grading to get caught up, and the other half, I left for planning ahead.”

A major reason for the implementation of planning days at Bio-Med was to follow the Ohio Revised Code, known to be “the codified law of the state.” Chapter 3301 of the ORC requires educators to be given 200 minutes of planning time per week. 

If a teacher worked for eight hours on their planning day, they would have 480 minutes of planning time. Spread out over four weeks in a month, they would have 120 minutes of planning time per week. Without planning periods, a planning day makes up for less than half of the time teachers were given in previous years. According to Mrs. McFerren, however, many teachers at Bio-Med have been able to retain most of their planning periods.

“When it comes to the Ohio Revised Code,” Mrs. McLaughlin said, “each teacher comes in 45 minutes early for planning time.”

Given the 45 minutes in the morning, even without a planning period, teachers at Bio-Med receive 225 minutes per week to plan lessons, grade assignments, and set up for classes. That estimate, though, is not entirely realistic, according to McFerren.

“Typically, our mornings [include] several meetings several days a week. It’s usually just kind of getting ready for what’s going on that day. It’s not really planning. It’s more just prepping,” she said.

Due to the shortage of staff, Bio-Med teachers have possibly experienced the loss of up to a quarter of their planning time from years prior. However, planning days have kept that time from dropping further. 

“As a teacher, I think we always need more time,” McFerren laughed. “I appreciate the planning day, absolutely. I’ll take it any time I can get it.”

Related Content: The Teacher and Substitute Shortage: More Education Problems Revealed by the Pandemic

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