Mar 4, 2011

Teachers Bear The Brunt Of Uncertainty


All across the country, from California to Rhode Island to New York, budget cuts threaten the jobs of tens of thousands of teachers in the worst round of potential layoffs in decades. Just last week, it was announced that Providence, Rhode Island, for example, would send termination notices to each of the district's 2,000 teachersa preemptive measure against a $40 million budget deficit. Meanwhile, Cleveland, Ohio projects laying off 20 percent of its teachers.
Meet Ma'ayan Weinberg, a third year high school teacher in Los Angeles, who has become accustomed to the annual spring ritual of budget cuts. Since stepping foot into the classroom three years ago, she has received a pink slip every single year. She managed to avoid losing her job because she teaches math, a difficult to staff subject. Here, she describes the threat of layoffs that are predicted for this year in not only in Los Angeles, but in districts nationwide.
During my first year as a teacher, I received a Reduction in Force (RIF) notice. As our school district faces budget shortfalls, they have turned to laying off teachers in the past years to cut spending. RIFs are used to notify teachers that they may not have a position in the coming school year. As a secondary math teacher, my RIF was later rescinded because the position is difficult to staff, but not before I saw the devastating effects of RIFs on not only my school, but my students.
I work in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) at a particularly challenging school, which suffers from high teacher turnover and a very young staff. As a result, more than half of our teachers received a RIF notice in any given year; meanwhile, other schools in the same district lost only one or two.
The first effect came with the first round of RIFs. We explained to our students what was happening, that we might not be able to return to the school next year. Our kids do not understand the seniority system. They could not understand why we would be let go when other teachers that did not teach were allowed to stay. In their minds, you are fired for not doing your job, not for being the last to get the job. The confusion was heartbreaking.
The second blow came the following year when teachers who did not want to be in our school were pushed in to fill the vacant positions. These were sometimes teachers who had made a conscious decision to no longer work in the classroom. After the RIFs, our open positions were their only option. At our school, you have to want to be here. You have to love the kids. That second year, students came to me upset because their teacher had no interest in them, did not want to teach them, and at times did not even show up to school for weeks or months at a time. 
That year, we lost some of our best teachers because they only had one or two years in the classroom. Despite an incredible love for our students, these teachers were forced to find positions at nearby charter schools, where they would not have to repeatedly face RIFs and the uncertainty of having a job to support a family. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are not subject to the same reduction in force requirements.  Most charter schools do not choose to balance their budget by letting go of teachers. 
No matter how many years in the classroom, if you don’t love and care for our kids, you cannot give them what they need. The fact is that our students already face overwhelming challenges outside of school. To add to it, we give them the most inexperienced teachers and when we find ones that want to stay and care for our kids, we take them away. 
I have no doubt that my experience and years spent in the classroom has will make me a better teacher.  However, in any other profession we promote and hold on to the highest performing, passionate employees. The way we cut teachers to supposedly balance a budget is a statement of the degree to which our society values education. 
Ma'ayan Weinberg is a Teach For America 2008 alumna from Urbana, Illinois. She is currently in her third year of teaching at Gompers Middle School in Watts, California. She has a bachelor's degree in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College and a Master's degree in urban education, policy, and administration from Loyola Marymount University. 

No comments:

Post a Comment