Feb. 2, 2005 - Balancing a full-time job and spending time at home with the family can be a daunting task in today's fast-paced world.

Ann Murphy and Robin Tapia, two fourth-grade teachers at Ironwood Elementary School, came up with a solution to their problems five years ago, allowing them to tend to both passions in their lives.

"We both really enjoy our jobs, but we both really enjoy our families too, so it's just a perfect balance between the two," explained Murphy.

The two participate in a "job share" granted through the Marana Unified School District's governing board each year. They recently were given permission to continue the job share for the 2005-06 school year, which will be their sixth year doing so.

Tapia covers the morning shift from 7:30 to 11 a.m., teaching language arts - reading, writing, spelling - and drama. Murphy takes over from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., teaching math, science, social studies and art.

They say their personalities aren't a lot alike. And they don't consider themselves comparable to Starsky and Hutch, Batman and Robin, or any of the famous duos.

Instead, they say, it's more like a marriage.

"Ann and I talk about it all the time - it is like a marriage," Tapia said. "You have to communicate. I have to know what happened in the afternoon before, and she needs to know what happened in the morning."

"It's just like having two parents," Murphy added. "You have one parent, and you know what you can and can't do. And then, all of a sudden, the other parent comes in and now you know you can't do this, but maybe you can do this, instead."

It was five years ago that the two separately decided they wanted to spend more time with their families, but also continue their love of teaching. They had never met before, but their shared interests brought them together.

Murphy was pregnant and already had a young child at home, and Tapia, who had two young children of her own, had a failed experience job sharing a second grade class with another teacher who left the school.

"My husband didn't want me to go back to full-time," Tapia said. "It was quit or find another option. So, I put it in my principal's ear and she started letting all the other principals throughout the district know.

"And thank goodness Ann called," she said.

Murphy had been teaching at Roadrunner Elementary at the time. When the word came through that Tapia had similar aspirations to job share, the two were put into contact with each other.

"We had no clue what each other's style was," Murphy recalls. "But it was something we both knew we wanted to do. And luckily it worked out beautifully."

Principal Jennifer Vemich said she was open to the idea of bringing Murphy aboard. Vemich herself had a previous experience job sharing a classroom with another teacher.

"One of our primary goals is to provide the best education that we can for our children," she said. "And we have two excellent teachers in Robin Tapia and Ann Murphy, both of whom have a family commitment to raising their own children."

Vemich said both teachers have differing areas of curricular strength that complement each other, and their teaching styles are similar enough to allow a smooth transition for students.

"They absolutely are a wonderful team," she said. "The children are fortunate to have the benefit of not just one great educator, but two."

One consideration when deciding if Tapia and Murphy could job share was whether the children would benefit from having two teachers. When Tapia had tried a job share in a second grade class six years ago, the children were too young to adjust to the concept, she said.

"I think we kind of compliment each other, which is what has made us work for the last five years," Tapia said. "Other people tried it and some haven't even made it through a whole year."

Murphy said the majority of the children have no problem starting their day with Tapia, breaking for music and physical education, and then spending the rest of the day with Murphy. The two teachers use the half-hour break from 10:30 to 11 a.m. as a one-on-one planning session.

"In five years, I can name one or two kids who probably would have been better off in another classroom - where changing between teachers wasn't the best thing for them," Murphy said. "But two kids out of 125, those are really good odds."

When it came time to divide the subjects the two would cover, they decided not to divide the language arts. Although, Tapia now jokes, "Ann gets all the fun stuff."

"Ann totally loves science and I love drama," Tapia said. "So, I love to do a big, huge play every year and I get to do arts and crafts with them. They get the best of both teachers."

Murphy noted the positives of having two fresh, energetic teachers coming in at different periods of the day.

"Right when Robin's about to get tired - halfway throughout the day - I come in fresh," she said. "I'm rested from the morning and I'm ready to go. So they get two fresh, excited teachers who are glad to be here."

Murphy said the extra time in her day allows her to be home in the morning with her children, Megan, 6, and Sean, 4. Her husband, Joe, works a different shift that wouldn't otherwise cooperate with her schedule.

"I just wanted to have that time at home to relax and do what we need to do before having to get out the door, rather than being one of those families that rush out," she said. " I love my mornings now."

Tapia enjoys her afternoons cycling with her husband Clyde and sons Logan, 10, and Spencer, 8. Her longer afternoons allow her to get her children to and from gymnastics classes, spring baseball, piano lessons and other extracurricular activities.

"It makes everybody's life easier," Tapia said. "As a full-time teacher, you don't just put in from 7:30 to 2:30. I was working until 5 o'clock and then trying to get laundry, clean the house, take the kids to gymnastics, do my job as a mom and be a full-time teacher. It was very difficult."

A couple of added perks, the two both joke, are that Murphy gets to watch the Today show in the morning and Tapia gets to watch Oprah in the afternoons.

"It's been wonderful and I'm so happy I have somebody who's willing to keep doing this," Tapia said.

The fourth-grade class currently is studying black history as part of Tapia's "tolerance unit," in which students are reading from Anne Kamma's book, "If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America."

Many of the children, such as 10-year-old Stacey Nelson, cite a science project they did with Murphy earlier this school year as one of their favorites. The students made the layers of the Earth using a malt ball as the core, vanilla ice cream as magma and chocolate syrup as the crust.

For other students interested in the performing arts, each year Tapia has the children in her class practice and perform a play inside the school. This year's class performed "A Christmas Carol."

"Having two teachers is really cool because one's for reading and one's for math and we do all these projects," said 10-year-old Sarah Thomas. "They're both really smart. I never had two teachers before."

Brady Evans, 10, is quick to acknowledge the advantages of having two minds in one room.

"They both work really hard at three or four subjects and they can put more time into teaching those subjects," he said. "Plus you don't get bored with two teachers."

Alyssa Leal, 9, said this school year has been one of her favorites.

"They inspire me to do stuff I never knew I could do before," she said. "And they're just fun teachers."

Elementary principals will entertain the idea of job sharing if they have quality educators that they want to keep in their schools, Vemich said.

From the few examples of job sharing she's seen, Vemich said, Murphy and Tapia have exceeded all expectations.

"This is the most effective example of it that I have seen," she said. "There are times when a teacher has to choose between family or their profession. The job share allows both."

It might not be common practice, Vemich said, "But, certainly, in our case, it's well worth giving it a chance."

There currently are four job shares in MUSD, involving six teachers and two counselors, said Human Resources Director Janice Reyher.

The job share program allows employees to advance one year toward retirement each school year, whereas a part-time teaching job only allows a half-year, she said.

They receive the same health benefits as full-time employees but on a pro-rated basis.

Tapia said she's nine years away from retirement and hopes to keep job sharing as long as she can. However, to qualify for better retirement benefits, she'll have to teach three of her last five years at full-time, Reyher said.

Reyher said in circumstances where one of the teachers takes a sick leave for any period of time, the other teacher has the option of stepping in. However, the district usually hires a substitute when it involves longer periods of time.

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