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Ten Commandments for the Teacher Handed a Pink Slip

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA
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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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Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Educational Consultant. Author. Speaker. Blogger.

I'm in So Cal and sadly very familiar with the pink slip process.
It saddens me deeply to read your post, but doesn't surprise me.
This challenging economic time we live in is so difficult, and has placed such a burden on so many. Here in California, we are experiencing massive layoffs of literally, thousands of teachers! Very scary stuff.
I spent 14 years as a school principal (in So Cal), and one of the most difficult days in my life was having to hand out 16 pink slips to my teachers in 2008. It was the most letters for any school in this district and included teachers, like you, who had 10 years of service to that district. I did what I could to lessen the blow...bought my teachers Starbucks cards, offered to take their recess duty, little things to show them that I cared.
We all cried that day in was SO hard to see the fear and despair on their faces. They were almost, inconsolable. But...little did my teachers know, that I had also received a pink slip.
After 14 years in this work, it was an unexpected blow. The financial issues plaguing the district were many and as a result they had to close 4 schools and release teachers, and new administrators to the district. I was one of those new admin. I kept the pink slip news to myself, and in the middle of that summer, I quietly packed my boxes, and looked ahead to new adventures.
The most important piece, I want to share with you is the "new adventures". You mention on your blog: What are the next steps beyond the "12 Commandments"? I would say to you simply,the next steps are growth and seeking your true passion. My ability to grow professionally in the last 2 years as an Educational Consultant has been so exciting! The miraculous transformation I've made to the utilization of social media tools, in my day-to-day work, has been so invigorating! I was not engaged with these tools as an administrator, nor was I blogging, on twitter or running a chat.(or working with Edutopia!)
I'm not naive. I acknowledge the emotional and financial stress. But my hope for you and the thousands of other educators in this country who are in this difficult position, would still be that you continue to press on, and never, never, never give up. This time of transformation, holds the potential to be one of the best things that will ever happen to you! Even though I know it doesn't feel that way...So I leave you with this quote that I love. It's on a magnet, on my home office desk, and I refer to it daily: "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" Even in the midst of my occasional doubts, as I'm pursuing my passion and dreams, the words continue to drive me to reach out, make it happen and not look back. You are tremendously talented and will no doubt land just right where you're supposed to be.
(We live so close, we ought to have coffee sometime soon!)
All the best to you,

Kali's picture
Kinder teacher

Hi Heather-
I was in your position just a few years ago. I made the WISE decision to leave my school district of 8 years after having a baby to take a teaching job closer to home. After teaching for a year, I was laid off from my new school district. Like you, I was an award winning teacher, with a lot of experiences, including some administration (summer school principalships) and lots of training (including a MA degree). I thought it would be unlikely that I would lose my job based on my own merit!
Long story short, I DID find a teaching position (thank goodness, since my hubby is also a teacher and had gotten a pink slip too!) at a virtual charter school (no seniority here, just good old work hard for your job, status), that allows me to spend more time with my daughter (and my baby that is due in 2 weeks). I also get to still use my talents while teaching and I love it! My hubby ALSO got a charter school job (just his second year of teaching) and we are both relieved that hard work is paying off!
Hang in there! With your talents and experiences something will come up! : )

massARTmom's picture

Your 10 commandments are right on. As I was reading the list, it reminded me to apologize to my 8th graders when we return from spring break. Thrusday, the week before we broke, I was a bear. I attended the board meeting on the budget the night before (where my fate was sealed...along with 26 of my fellow teachers.) I tossed and turned all night worrying how this 55 year old, late in life teacher, was going to find the means to support her family. Contemplating this is still quite scary, but doesnt excuse my sharp mood the next day. Thank you and good luck to you.

karen harry's picture

Excellent blog!Thanks for the 10 commandments. Our district just issued notices of layoff to all our teachers and I will definitely share this with them!

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