Teachers invest time before school opening
As three Truckee Elementary School instructors moved boxes, bookshelves and computers around Room 103, they talked about the challenges ahead and the need for extra time to prepare.
Annamarie Cohen, a Truckee Elementary special-education teacher, is one of many educators in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District who put in unpaid time the week before the annual fall arrival of students.
The first day of school is next Wednesday.
“I could not walk in here to this and do my job,” said Cohen as she motions to the clutter of supplies and material stacked against walls and on shelves.
“It’s really worth it [to come in a week early],” said kindergarten teacher Betsy DePew.
“It makes it easier to do my job,” said Cohen as teaching intern Ashley Cruttendenas helped her move furniture.
Cohen is one of many teachers who volunteer their time one or even two weeks before their contract pay kicks in. The Tahoe Truckee Unified School District pays teachers for 182 days of work, known as contract days, and only compensates teachers for the Monday and Tuesday before the start of classes.
Many educators say that two days is simply not enough for the amount of work they need to do to be ready when the first bell rings.
For instructors like Cohen, who is starting her 10th year of teaching with Tahoe Truckee’s school district, that means beginning her commuting season early. She lives in Reno because she and her husband, a ski instructor, cannot afford to buy a house in the Truckee area.
“Teachers are part of that professional-but-not-middle-class group,” Cohen said, her helpers nodding in agreement. Working for free seems to be accepted and expected among many dedicated teachers.
“I think this is a great district and we have wonderful teachers that do unbelievable jobs,” Cohen said.
District board Trustee Vicki Isacowitz said teachers should be getting compensated for their time, as well as for the materials they often purchase with money from their own pockets.
“It’s not required for them to be there, but is almost impossible to do the job without being there,” Isacowitz said.
The majority of the teachers she knows put in extra time and money, and they do it to “create an atmosphere of learning and empowerment” for their students, she said.
Alder Creek Middle School math and science teacher Betsy Hansen said she will spend at least 60 hours during the two weeks before school starts fixing up her classroom.
“Because it’s my job and I love it,” Hansen explained. “I want the kids to get the best opportunity to learn and feel safe, and just make sure the students feel comfortable.”
Hansen said she doesn’t know of a teacher at Alder Creek who does not spend at least two weeks ” if not the entire summer ” preparing their room and curriculum.
“People say ‘Oh, you get two months off,’ but it’s really like a light-duty schedule [in the summer],” Hansen said.
A look around Hansen’s classroom shows neat posters already adorning the walls, and fresh multi-colored handouts on desks ready for next week’s students.
“I look at the whole year as far as what benchmarks and standards need to be met at what time, and then I make a plan ” a sort of year at a glance,” Hansen said.
Hansen is among the teachers who contribute their own money.
“The district provides funding and I buy supplies and if that runs out, which it almost always does, then I put in my own money,” Hansen said.
Though teachers work 182 contractual days, Truckee Elementary Principal Cathy Valle said it takes them more time than that to get ready.
“They all do [it]; no one comes in for [just] that Monday,” Valle said.
Valle chalks it up to a level of professionalism that drives the teachers to put in the extra time. She said teachers also spend time after school and on weekends to research new subjects and gather resources for future class projects.