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Work to Rule-Grrr...


Senior Member
My school district and union have been in negotiations over our contact for awhile now. At the last mediation meeting on Friday nothing was agreed upon. Therefore we are starting work to rule next Tuesday. The next mediation session isn't scheduled until mid way through December<!--grumpy-->.

This means we have to go to school at the start of our contract time and leave immediately at the end of our contract time. I have NEVER left at my contract time. We cannot bring work home either. How am I ever going to get everything done? This is my first year in first grade.

Of course I want to support the union and teachers (since I'm one of them!), but I'm going to be so stressed out from not having enough time to plan. I bring work home every night! At least my husband will be happy to see that I'm not doing school work.

Has anyone else done work to rule? I can't imagine that it's just my district. I sure hope they come to an agreement sooner rather than later. My classroom is probably going to suffer a little, because I just won't have time to get everything done.


Full Member
You Can Do It!

I experienced this 6 years ago...

We had job actions that lasted for three months. We wore buttons on our shirts every day. The were red apples. We told the kids they were buttons that showed our unity as a team of teachers. We also wore red shirts on Fridays. We told the kids the shirts were like a team uniform, again showing unity as a team of teachers. We also worked to our contract.

The working to our contract set the community in an uproar. None of us had ever done that before and the parents did not know how to handle it.

Doesn't that make you really think? It made me think. I mean just how much beyond my contractual work time did the community actually expect me to go?

I got really good at planning my lessons and correcting work during prep periods. And guess what...I was still a damn good teacher.

That was six years ago. It changed me. There are still some nights I stay in my room until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. doing something, but those days are few. I learned I can still be a great teacher without working all of those long hours. I learned that nobody gave me very much credit for putting those hours in anyway. I care about my kids. I care about my curriculum, but during those job actions, I learned I can also care about my life.

We are facing new negotiations this year. I know we are ready to return to job actions if need be and this time, it won't be as stressful.

You deserve pay for your time! You should not have to put in all of those extra hours for nothing. Be creative and be positive. Change some of the ways you plan or correct papers. Get the kids involved in that or in making bulletin displays. You will see you can be an effective teacher within your contracted time. It is not unprofessional to merely work to contract. It is simply doing your job.

I wish you luck.


Senior Member
I feel for you


You have to search your soul on this one! Please keep my comments in proper perspective as I don't belong to our teacher's union for firmly held religious beliefs. If I was in your district, I would make every attempt to honor the work to rule, but I would never let it affect the basic learning in my classroom. That said, you have a balancing act here. In the age of computers, you can do a lot of planning at home. Learn to do your plans online and that will save you time in the future! Make sure you give the children very few things to grade. For now, stop all those cutsie time consuming projects that keep you at school. If you have a darling hallway project, your peers will know it likely happened at home. Don't respond to emails from parents after hours, etc. You have to show your fellow teachers that you are in compliance with the action. A new teacher can't afford to be alienated for the next ten years because of this short term job action.

Spend this time learning how to be an effective teacher without thinking "cute" all the time (not that you do now). Cute is what consumes so much of our time and then we complain. Lots of cute often shows that we think we have to entertain. It sort of drives me crazy when teachers ask for "I need a cute, fun way to teach math facts". How about an effective way? So, I totally agree with some other posters that we ALL need to learn to cut back on the amount of time we dedicate to teaching. I am guilty of this too!

Also, remember that the teachers who are the most vocal are often the experienced teachers with tenure. I've learned that some teachers have a "union" mentality all the time and that attitude gets tiresome. I'm an "older" teacher and I have seen that it doesn't matter, younger or older teachers, the union mentality is seen in all age groups.

Good luck. Your situation really stinks, especially for a new teacher. Don't let this season of a work to rule sour you.


Senior Member
Stick with it!

I don't know how privy you are to the negotiations, but as much as you might think your union is playing hard ball, the administration is probably asking for more, more, MORE from you without any compensation. It's got to do with control. Imagine doing more in terms of committees, longer days/school year, meetings, etc., etc., etc. with limits on extra curricular pay and your planning time, as well as pay that doesn't even account for a cost of living increase not to mention more contributions to basic health care packages. You bet your administration will always push to have you work beyond the rule whenever they can. I don't want to sound distrustful, but it does happen...and their's nothing worse for a trusting relationship than to find out you've been put to the screws!

Don't fall into the "it's hurting the kids" company line. What's good for kids is what's good for teachers. Believe me, my inside experience has shown me that most districts worry more about $ than they ever do real learning.

Remember, the solidarity of the teachers who are in the union now will help hold the line (or hopefully make things better) for ALL teachers.

I agree with the PP who found the work to rule an eye opener.

Good luck and I hope your contract turns out fair.


Senior Member
Thank you for your responses. I definitely plan to follow work to rule.

My biggest concern is getting all my planning done and being ready for lessons. I'm NOT a cutesy teacher whatsoever, so I'm not worried about that. What I bring home is typically my math and writing manuals so I can read them and be prepared for the next day's lesson. Being new to the grade level means being new to the curriculum at this grade level (although I've taught the math curriculum before).

Maybe this will help me to really use my contract time wisely, and it will force me to get things done within the contract time. That part will be nice.

I agree-teachers put in way more time and money than we should have to. I think it's time to be compensated fairly-which my district obviously isn't doing.



Senior Member
I don't think taking home your manuals to read and prepare would be against the work to rule. Hope the mediation goes well. We are at mediation too :( but not at the work to rule.


Senior Member
unions/religious beliefs

I'm curious about the comments about "Union mentality" and "not being a member because of religious beliefs". What do you see as a Union mentality...and how could religious beliefs possibly conflict with a Union membership? Don't Unions fight for workers' rights?

I seem to remember that Unions fought to abolish sweatshops and to enact child labor laws. We are lucky to be a part of the US labor movement and not have to endure the situations of workers in many countries.

I'm a "older teacher" who is proud of my Union membership.


Senior Member
first grade

I understand your concerns. We had work-to-rule last year for two months, and it was tough on us first grade teachers, since our language arts program requires LOTS of teacher prep. And I'm not talking about cutesy stuff. This is every day prepping that must be done. We took our work home, because we felt we were hurting ourselves as well as our students if we did not continue the program.

What was worse, we also had to take all our personal belongings out of our classrooms, and boy, did it look bare in there! My classroom library was virtually non-existent, there were no pocket charts, small bookcases, listening center, colorful posters, stuffed animals, big books, extra pencils, and so on.

I did not do any before school tutoring/after school tutoring/ parent conferences because we all walked out in unison. It hurt my heart to do it, but the district did not want to negotiate, and we had to step up the pressure.

Eventually the district agreed that the teachers should be compensated fairly, but the process from beginning to end took over a year.


Senior Member
me too

I am an "older teacher with a union mentality" -- wow, how's that for a label and a generalization! :D Anyway, it is a label I am proud to wear. In fact I think it is the responsibility of teachers with tenure to speak out for student learning conditions / teacher working conditions. And like it or not we older teachers have seen a lot (now if only we could remember it.......LOLLOL)

For the original poster --- the first thing to remember is that work-to-rule is actually the beginning of the end. Negotiations will continue and it is the goal of both parties to reach a settlement that is mutually agreeable.

As for the WTR --- the first time we did it was a BIG deal. As teachers we are problem solvers, and not the most vocal group. Most work to rule actions are incremental in nature. You may start out by working your contracted hours and then increase your actions as time goes by.

The wonderful thing about WTR was that I actually got to spend my time teaching.

Yes that is right, teaching.

We did not collect money, we did not hand out endless forms, --- this was huge. I was never one to complain about milk money, hot dog money, pizza money, music lesson forms, day camp forms, immunization forms etc. It wasn't till we went on WTR that I realized how much of my instructional time was taken by these activities.
We did not spend hours and days testing or participating in Board initiatives (writing examplars etc)
We did take our 40 minute lunches. And I did leave the building within 15 minutes of dismissal as opposed to several hours after school ended.
My kids did have far more hands-on, centered based learning experiences --- and that is how I believe grade 1 students learn.
We did not spend our time in meetings --- amazing the things that could be accomplished by walking down the hall and asking in person rather than calling a meeting.
Our first work-to-rule was around this time of year --- the only holiday season in years that I can remember actually having time to enjoy with my family, and I wasn't exhausted.

During WTR we learned to say "I am doing the best job I can with the time and resources we have available."

It's not the job we are hired to do that wears us down --- it is a lot of the other stuff.

Don't listen to or respond to rumours. There will be tough days and stressed out folks. Work hard to keep everyone's spirits up and focus on the job you do best ---- teaching. Somebody else is doing the negotiating.

Good luck. Keep us posted


me too

Right now, I am in the beginning of WTR- and it just started on Monday. I am already dying. I don't know what it's like to NOT work outside of contract hours. I can't stay later due to my own child arrangements, but I come in 40 minutes earlier, do 1-2 Saturdays a month, bring work home every single night.....now I see exactly how much I do at home. I would grade tests, papers, projects, do my grades and interms, and check homework off all at home. Now that I have to do all of that during school at my plannings...in along with the normal stuff at planning: a team meeting, faculty meeting, plan for units, do my own lesson planning, get guided reading books, make guided reading plans, clean up my room each day and set my room up the next day, have the parent meetings, create technological lesson plans,....I can't. I don't have enough time.

I don't know what to do. I am an extremely organized, anal teacher...who is an over-achiever and perfectionist, and I even had my team leader come to me and saying that if she, who is more laid back, is struggling to get things done within our contract hours...then she knows that I am over my head. And I am. I have actually come to tears. I feel like just saying scr$w it, and bring stuff home...but our district is really slapping us in our faces and I do feel we have to make a point...but I am the one being affected at the moment :(


Senior Member
that's the point

The whole point of work-to-rule is to let the community know that you CAN'T do what they ask you to do within your contracted hours. You just have to let go of some things like returning papers in a timely manner. I know it's not fair to the students, but it is just as unfair to expect teachers to work 24/7. Once the families see what is not getting done, they will put pressure on the school committee/mayor's office or whoever controls your district's budget. I know it is very hard on dedicated teachers, but it is so important to follow the Union's plan. United we stand, divided we fall.


Senior Member
Not in a union, but IMO

This is a good time to have a WTO. You can spend all that extra time being a mom and doing fun things for the holidays. Yse, your job will be stressful during your contracted hours, but you will HAVE to leave it behind at the end of your day. Sounds like agoldne oppoturnity to have an aswesome holiday experience this year.

Now on the teaching side of things. I would just do what I could. This time of year is about doing all the curriculum plus all the holiday stuff. Well, we all know that that fun holiday stuff requires our money and extra time, so I would do what I can within the means of my classroom. If I had plans to make some awesome craft, but did not have all materials I would come up with something that I could accomplish with what I have. This may hit parents of more experienced teachers harder because many teachers are known to do that "special" craft every year and parents look forward to that when their child has Ms."Smith".HMMM, this year may be different. I sure the kids will love whatever you do, so don't stress over it.

Enjoy the newfound freedom of time to spend with your family!


Full Member
I Wish that Our Union Was Strong...

enough to negotiate this. We're expected to do more and more outside of regular school hours all the time. ;)


Senior Member

I agree that teachers are being asked to do the impossible. I have 30 students in second grade... 7 ESL, 2 mainstreamed autistic, plus 21 others with the normal range of abilities and challenges. As we are getting ready for parent conferences, I asked my students to complete a self assessment checklist... Do I try my best?... Am I a good friend to my classmates?... etc., closing with 2 questions. One was do you have anything that you want to tell your teacher.

One ESL child wrote "Mrs. ____ help me read book." Another, " I want to learn more science. I love to learn new things." Another, " I want to stay after school so that you can help just me." Another, "Can I get better at math, please help me."

It broke my heart to think that I am working as hard as I can and I can't do more. I think that it is criminal to pack children in a classroom where it is impossible to meet their needs. America needs to care more about its children.

Regarding Unions... they are only as strong as their members.


NJ Teacher

Senior Member
I definitely understand...

I am living this situation now, and have been since September. On top of it, I am very active on both the Negotiations Committee and at the building level for our union, so I definitely have to toe the company line. It is stressful, and like you, I am doing work at night and on the weekends that I wouldn't be doing out of school otherwise. However, you have to keep your eye on the prize. With us, it's health benefits, which is one of the few "perks" we get on this job. We started the year with no bulletin boards or door decorations as well, and the kids have not noticed or commented. While there might be a few less projects getting done, the focus definitely has been on what's truly important in instruction. I also am enjoying the extra sleep, and the getting home earlier than I used to allows me to do things like go out for walks and do errands that I would not have had the time or energy to do otherwise. I'd rather have a settlement, but like you, we're at impasse, and it probably will be awhile. Hang in there, and vent here any time! Your pro teacher friends understand. I hope mediation resolves it for you.


Full Member

I also teach in NJ and am currently involved in contract negotiations. We hope we can settle this year before the contract year ends.

I know years ago when we almost had to strike, the new teachers were told to bring their manuals home and leave them there. That way they could do work at home, but nobody would see them carrying stuff to and from school. The rest of us did NO work at home. If we couldn't finish it during our contractual time, it got set aside until the next day. The community was so upset, but hey...they learned how hard we worked without compensation.

As for the religious beliefs, we have several certificated staff members who have chosen not to join the union for religious reasons. They feel the NJEA is a liberal organization, supporting politicians who maintain views that go against their own conservative religious beliefs. Therefore they do not join, but they all performed the job actions with us and benefitted from every contract we settled. I feel like it is their right to not join. They still have to pay a percentage of the dues since they are represented by the union in all negotiations. That in itself makes them part of the team.