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Professional Learning

Ten Commandments for the Teacher Handed a Pink Slip

April 12, 2011

This post was originally written for my website. Since then, I have received so much kindness from my online network of teachers; I would be a glutton for support if it didn't help keep my heart afloat.

The fact is, that I believe that for whatever reason we aren't meant to have our whole list in life checked off completely at any one time. A snapshot of my last two months would see "Healthy birth of my second son", Check. "Publishing of my first book," Check. "Job," Uncheck. It can be emotionally exhausting, but remember to dwell on what is checked, and other checks will eventually appear. After all, my father always said "everything's temporary, the good and the bad." If you find yourself with a pink slip this year, as I did, remember that this too shall pass.

With luck, the system will right itself one day to permit your talent to dwell in its walls again. Until then, it is education's loss. May this post help you as you form your next game plan, and may you receive the level of support and kindness from your colleagues that I have been blessed to receive. Teachers have broad shoulders to lean on. May your online community and your fellow teachers at Edutopia be there for you as you lean.

I recently wrote an article for The Huffington Post that highlighted the history, pros and cons of education's seniority list. However, little did I know that as I submitted my piece, my own pink slip was in the mail.

The deep budget cuts that are bleeding our schools have unavoidably led to my own RIF notice. A copy of the letter arrived yesterday describing my imminent employment doom. To add salt to the wound, the certificated original arrived today, meaning I now have two copies, presumably in case I should lose one. So despite almost 10 years in the district, my first book coming out this March, and being an award-winning teacher, I will still need to pack up my classroom library at the end of this school year.

It's rather complicated really. I mean, there's your hire date, of course. Then there's some arbitrary points system to break ties between teachers hired on the same date. But when it all boils down, it ends up being about people bumping people bumping people and causing a ripple of realignments that can be felt all along a district's K-12 spine leaving many of us with no position at all.

After all, our system is set up for teachers to be plug-ins, widgets that are interchangeable. Will the person who bumped me from my classroom be a high school teacher who has never taught middle schoolers because he sees them as just too crazy to be reasoned with, or a first grade teacher who has never taught a child with an age warranting anything close to double digits?

Regardless, however, I must admit, that when all is said and done, it isn't MY classroom. I have shown it love. I have designed it to lure in tweens to the love of learning. But next year someone else will most likely be putting their posters on the walls and mug on the desk. And while I could dwell on this prospect, and get saddened by it, for today at least, I chose to write about it. Because while it's hard not to look ahead at those who will remain behind in a school I've grown to love, the fact is that it's not productive.

So this post is advice for my readers but also for myself.

The Ten Commandments

1. Thou Shalt Not Panic

2. Thou Shalt Not Take Our Misfortune out on the Kids, Doing the Best Job We Can until The Final Day in June

3. Thou Shalt Not Close Any Doors

4. Thou Shalt Make All Deadlines of Legal Paperwork to Potentially Keep Yourself in the Game, Even Though It's Daunting and Depressing

5. Thou Shalt Not Dwell on How The System is Broken to the Point of Avoiding Your Own Reality

6. Thou Shalt Not Blame "Them" -- Those Who Had Nothing To Do with Your Number on a List

7. Thou Shalt Be Proactive, Figure Out a Game Plan, and Invest in Yourself

8. Thou Shalt Find A Job That Appreciates Your Skills

9. Thou Shalt Remember The Needs of Education When You Are Making the Big Bucks Elsewhere

10. Thou Shalt Not Forget Those Whose Lives You've Changed

Remember to try not to hit a wall of helplessness or anger, because if you were to personify this system, then it would surely win. Instead, toss the wall aside before you slam into it. Better yet, when you see a wall, climb it.

Good luck to you all, and know that there are those out there cheering for you.

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