Frank McCulley and 106 of his colleagues converged on the Deptford Mall food court, took a seat and for two hours did in public something usually done in private. They graded papers, wrote lesson plans, and created instructional materials. McCulley, a physics teacher at Delsea Regional High School, cooked up the idea with chemistry teacher Tina Dare.
Working for a solid two hours, no one got all the work done.
“Tina and I were talking about how the public has this notion that teachers work short hours,” McCulley said. “They have no idea of the time we put in grading papers or prepping for class outside the normal school day.”
A 2008 NJEA poll of members revealed that more than 20 percent of teachers spend more than 20 hours beyond the contracted day on schoolwork. Seventy-five percent report that they work at least six to 10 hours beyond the contracted day in a typical week.
Ask me what I’m doing!
McCulley and Dare decided the best way to let the public know all they do was to move their grading and prepping from the kitchen table to a table at the food court. At their tables, members from Salem and Gloucester counties set up tent cards inviting passers-by to “Ask me what I’m doing.”
“You go, sister! Grade those papers,” a shopper called out to Lori Bathurst who teaches at Chestnut Ridge Middle School in Washington Township.
“They’re not home washing dishes. They’re out here together grading papers, and I think that’s great,” another shopper told Mary Ellen Covely, a teacher from W.C.K. Walls School in Pitman.
The owner of the Sweet Stop, a candy store at the mall, got wind of the Grade-in, despite no advance public announcements. Store manager Rosie Reilly circulated among the teachers and paraprofessionals distributing a coupon offering 15 percent off most store items to NJEA members.
“My mom’s a teacher, and I know how hard she works,” Reilly said. “Tonight we wanted to thank teachers for everything they do for kids and the community. And we’re real excited that you’re here!”
Time well spent
“I think it’s a wonderful idea for the community to see how much time we dedicate to doing things behind the scenes,” said Tracy Marinaro, who teaches at Field Street Elementary School in the Penns Grove-Carneys Point school district.
Chris Onorato, the president of the Delsea Education Association spoke with a shopper who told her, “This is a very good thing for me to see. I don’t have any children, but I pay taxes to support the schools. I’m glad to see how my taxes are being spent.”
“This was a really positive experience,” said Nancy Robertson who teaches at Harrison Township School. “I don’t feel like I wasted my time here tonight.”
NJEA members from Alloway Township, Clayton, Clearview Regional, Delsea Regional, Franklin Township, Gateway Regional, Glassboro, the Gloucester County Institute of Technology, Greenwich Township, Harrison Township, Penns Grove-Carneys Point, Pennsville, Pitman, Salem City, Swedesboro-Woolwich, and Washington Township participated.
McCulley hopes that “Grade-ins” catch on.
“We should encourage members to do as much grading and prep work in public as possible,” he said. “Members could create ‘Flash Grade-ins.' Imagine a teacher posting to Facebook or Twitter something like, ‘I’m going to the coffee shop in Mantua to mark some essays at 7 p.m. Care to join me?’”
For more information, visit www.gradein.org