Friday, April 1, 2011

Pink Slips

"Beware the Ides of March" said Shakespeare many centuries ago, and it should be a slogan for public education in California. March 15th, Shakespeare's/Rome's Ides of March day, is wearisome in California. Thousands of teachers receive "pink slips" (mine has never been pink...) saying basically that due to budget uncertainties, they may not have a job next year.

A quick tangent on budgeting...The budget if I recall correctly (as it is not my forte) has cycles of knowledge and disbursement...the state gives some inclination of funding in January, then April, then July...April calls an end to ADA ($ for attendance) and these periods may also be pay periods. (Sorry...I should really be more knowledgeable). I think by May 15 districts must "pencil" in the budget for the following school year, but they don't actually know what funding they will receive until July 1. And funding is based on the previous school year. Example, if a school of 300 students submits their budget in May of 2011, they find out their actual budget July 1st of 2011, and then when school rolls around in late summer of 2011, if the enrollment swells to 350, their funding is based on last school year's 300 students.
Therefore with all this budget confusion, schools make a not-so-conservative chopping block list in March and then refine it in May, based solely on speculations.

Back on topic here...
Those most often pink slipped, whether it be the Russian Roulette invitation in March or the Russian Roulette final rounds in May, are the newest teachers and staff (people often forget that teacher's aides, administration, etc get cut, too). If you're not tenured, it's quite likely you'll make the first rounds; and if it is particularly a bad year financially even a newly tenured staff person can enter the first rounds. This means teachers that most likely are struggling to support a family (since your first years of teaching have lower salary than your more "senior" years on the job) and more likely are paying off student debt, are most likely at risk. What a way to value the new teaching stock!

Them May rolls around and usually most pink slips are rescinded but there's often some kind of final rounds of certain death. Once this occurs, your likelihood of getting another job lessens because you only "lasted" at a school for a few years which looks suspicious. Once you reach my magical number of two of these experiences, no one wants to hire you; they never seen to think "oh, pink slips" but rather "oh, bad teacher".

I have fallen victim to these practices twice; both times I lost the second round of roulette.

I remember waking on March 15 with mixed emotions and biting at the bit until the Principal would call me in the office. Both times, I got the pink slip. I kept telling myself, so many people receive these and so few are let go so who cares? But there was always that nagging voice saying, what if? This made the two months between March and May utter hell...I had to content with the spring fever of my students, state testing, and job insecurity. I'd second guess my every action and, I was tired and yawned in front of the Principal, will she think that means I'm bored by my job? ADHD Annie is off her rocker today and refuses to finish her spelling test- will this cause me to be fired?
May 15 rolls around and I wake up in a foul mood. I keep telling myself, it will be ok it will be ok. But both times, it wasn't. I remember when I received the bad news I did my best not to cry, and went into the restroom and bawled my eyes out. I did not want to be the center of attention or object of pity. I had a job to finish, and this would not get in my way. (I did witness other staff being let go, that had a f%#k it attitude and barely did their job after May 15 but not me). I put on a game face and battled through the rest of the year. I refused both times to tell anyone I was not going to return the following year. See, teaching is a job but it is also a life style. The students, your co-workers, are your extended family. If you remove sleep, night school, errands, it seems you're at school more than home, and see your students more than your own family. So imagine being ostracized from your own family! Your home! You become a destitute, nomadic, Pink Slip refugee. It is heart breaking.
I remember that both times, I did not tell my students the bad news - that they would never see me again- until the very end of the last day of school. Therefore, the last day of school was bittersweet. I'd take photos of my class (before delivering my news), smiles abound as they got all jazzed up about summer...I preserved these happy memories on paper because that's how I want to remember my students. I do recall one of the years, the students went to promotion, meaning the next school year they would attend middle school, so for them it was bitter sweet too, as they were leaving their school of six years.
Upon delivering my bad news, my students were always so shocked. They said I was a good teacher and didn't deserve this and how they would never see me again and how sad it was. I got hugs and tears and thank yous.

Once my students left for summer, I'd stay after and pack up my classroom which is a hard thing to do. It is sad to tear everything down, knowing you'd never hear child chatter in that class again, never witness another "aha moment" inside those walls, never proudly display a student's work again, never post a "welcome to my class" sign and great eager but frightened children as they entered your class for the first time... everything you pack away carries a memory that may never be replicated. And you are filled with emotion- obvious sadness, but some joy for the good things that did happen inside those walls (kind of like an Irish wake, celebrating life!) and then some anger too, and misunderstandings, negative emotions all bundled up , that you didn't let out at school because you couldn't, and now they'd been shoved aside so long that now that you can let them out, it seems futile, but the anger still resides. You're gone, what is done is done. You've been a victim of circumstance. They'd better regret letting you go. Will they remember me, will a part of me always be in these walls, in the story of the school, the memory of the children, or will that all go away as fast as I do?

Shutting off the lights and locking the door for the last time is an unforgettable moment, almost indescribable. I slooowly shut the door, unwilling to fully let it go, let reality set in. But as soon as the lock clicks, I can't get out of there fast enough.

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