As Jobs Become Scarce, Some Teachers Share Them

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In 1965, the school systems in Framingham, Mass., and surrounding towns, facing a shortage of teachers, began allowing two teachers to share one job as a way of encouraging married women to return to the classroom on a part-time basis.

Eleven years later, the San Francisco Unified School District began promoting "job sharing" as a way of reducing the number of teachers it had to lay off as a result of declining enrollments.

While the rationale for job sharing has varied since its introduction into the nation's schools, its two principal characteristics have not: it is not widely used, but the teachers, principals, parents, and students involved seem to like it.

"It's absolutely perfect," says Lee Ellen Russell, a San Francisco elementary-school teacher who has shared classroom duties each week with the same colleague since the 1976-77 school year. "It always feels like a Monday or a Tuesday, you never get that rundown, 'it's-Friday' feeling."

Partnership Teaching

Job sharing--or partnership teaching, as it is sometimes called--usually involves two teachers, at half their usual salaries, sharing one full-time job.

The division of the workload varies. Most, apparently, are in the classroom two days one week and three the next. Others split each day, alternate weeks, or work only one semester a year.

Unlike part-time teachers, job sharers usually receive prorated or, in some cases, full health benefits and seniority rights.

There seem to be a several reasons for teachers' choosing to work half time. Some see it as an alternative to being laid off; others view it as a way of avoiding "burnout" or' of easing into retirement; and some use their free time to go to school, to explore new careers, or to spend more time with their children. A disproportionate number of job sharers, studies suggest, are women.

The prospect of supporting oneself on half a teacher's salary may explain in part the relatively small number of teachers who are involved in it.

Nationwide statistics on job-sharing are not readily available. Barbara Moorman, who heads a "job sharing in the schools project" for New Ways to Work, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization formed in 1972 to promote alternatives to the 9-to-5 work routine, says about 1,500 of California's approximately 180,000 teachers in more than 300 districts are involved in job sharing.

Ms. Moorman says her research has turned up job-sharing arrangements in at least one school system in each of 21 different states. But Hawaii, which operates as a single statewide school district, has the only statewide program.

Now in its fifth year with about 100 participants (out of the state's 9,600 public-school teachers), the program was created by the state legislature as a way of reducing the number of unemployed teachers in the state. Under the plan, tenured teachers who want to reduce their workload team up with unemployed teachers.

The legislature's auditor gave the program high marks in a March 1981 evaluation. But so far, it has not appreciably reduced Hawaii's teacher-unemployment problem, according to Donald R. Nugent, who runs the program for the state education department.

Promoting the Idea

Outside 'Hawaii, the concept seems to be most widely known in the San Francisco Bay area, where Ms. Moorman's organization has spent several years, recently with foundation support, promoting the idea to school systems.

Nonetheless, only about 1 percent of San Francisco's 3,700 teachers share their positions, school-system officials say. They add that this figure has remained steady for several years.

Although relatively few teachers share their jobs, the concept is praised by those who have experience with it.

"I endorse it," says Newman M. Walker, superintendent of the Palo Alto, Calif., school system, where job sharing has been in use for several years. "There is something stimulating about two professionals working together. And when you are working with another person, there is subtle pressure to do a better job."

"Students also benefit from being able to interact with two adults,'' he added. "Two heads are better than one."

Adds Joseph A. Stallone, principal of Garfield Elementary School in San Francisco, where Ms. Russell teaches: "Job-sharing teachers give 140 percent when they teach because they are only here for a short time. They are operating on all cylinders."

Others note that substitutes are rarely needed for job sharers because they cover for each other and that school systems often save money when older, highly paid teachers switch to job sharing and half-pay.

The legislative auditor's report in Hawaii calculated that the state saved $440,000 in salaries during the first two-and-a-half years of its job-sharing project. Some administrators, though, say they do not save money on job sharing when they give both teachers full fringe benefits.

While parents often seem to be initially skeptical of having their children taught under a team-teaching arrangement, recent studies suggest that they like the arrangement once it is in place.

For example, of 117 parents responding to a survey done last spring by the Mt. Diablo Unified School District in California, where about 60 teachers share jobs, 96 percent said they would have their children taught by team-teachers again. Similar positive responses by parents were found in the evalutation of Hawaii's program.

In addition, all of the 21 principals surveyed in the Mt. Diablo study endorsed job sharing, while 95 percent of the 400 students questioned said they enjoyed it and 82 percent said they would choose it again.

The major concern of parents and school administrators, it seems, is that two teachers sharing a job could result in duplication or, conversely, a lack of continuity in disciplinary practices and instruction.

"Communication is the key," said Mr. Stallone, the San Francisco principal. "If the teachers don't keep in close contact, the whole thing can fall apart. So far, there haven't been any problems here."

"It's absolutely essential that you are compatible with the person you work with," said Judith A. Haslam, an administrator in the budget and personnel offices of the San Francisco school system who shared her duties as a middle-school English teacher during 1978-79 while she pursued a master's degree in business administration.

"We spent a lot of time bridging differences in ideas about discipline, teaching styles, and the expectations we had for the kids," Ms. Haslam said. "It turned out that over the course of the year, I gave every student one grade lower than my colleague."

Most teaching partnerships are initiated by teachers who submit written proposals to their principals. The often sticky questions of benefits, seniority, and reversibility (switching back to full-time work) are dealt with differently from place to place, says Ms. Moorman, depending on state regulations, collective-bargaining agreements, and school-system policies.

But while the National Educational Association (nea) adopted a resolution in 1981 endorsing the job-sharing concept, neither it nor the American Federation of Teachers is pushing the partnership idea at the national level.

"We support the idea, but it's not a raging hot item," said John E. Dunlop, manager of negotiations for the nea

Despite that, job sharing got a boost in Connecticut last spring, when Gov. William A. O'Neill signed a law allowing teachers to retire but to continue teaching about two courses a year while still collecting full retirement benefits.

"It will definitely encourage job sharing among older teachers who want to phase out of the profession," said Ralph M. Burke, director of personnel for the Fairfield school system.

California and Minnesota also have laws that make it easier for older teachers to share jobs.

Vol. 02, Issue 06

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