You’re Fired! (Photo credit: billypalooza)
In the craziness of first-year teaching, losing my job wasn’t something I had much time to think about. Quitting my job, yes. But losing the job that I spent early mornings and late nights at? That thought hadn’t crossed my mind. Not while I led yearbook club, or when I helped a student re-design the school website. Not as I was shuffled to three different classrooms or taught classes when the school was completely out of paper.
I guess I was too busy putting out the small fires.
Either way, I did lose my job, about two weeks ago. My school faced a budget shortfall and laid off two teachers, myself included. The reason I was chosen came down to the fact that I taught the only elective content classes. They couldn’t get rid of any other position without getting in trouble with the state.
Before reading further: Don’t freak out. I’m one of three people I’ve ever heard of being laid-off midyear, and all of us have figured it out (and grown from it, I’d say). If you find yourself in this position (or if the thought of getting laid-off keeps you up at night), here are five takeaways I’ve gleaned from the experience:
1.) Stay hopeful
I’ve truly been blown away by how supportive the educational community is, inside and out of TFA. A day after I found out I was laid-off, my region’s staff was already hard at work finding me another placement. Everyone I’ve reached out to as I’ve observed other schools has tried their best to help me. This includes strangers with no prior experience with me. The team teacher of a corps member sat down and spent her prep to give me advice, a 1991 TFA alum took time from his job at Minneapolis Public Schools headquarters to help with the job search, and I’m convinced that the TFA regional staff told anyone willing to listen how fancy I am. It’s humbling, and makes me excited for my next educational opportunity.
2.) Think Bigger
It’s easy to take a layoff personally, but remember our educational system has very, very big issues that extend beyond the classroom
I’m not the only teacher to be let go at my school or in my region this year. While getting excellent teachers into the classroom is the quickest way to help students, we need job stability and fair-paying jobs for teachers if we expect them to make a career of it.
3.) Reflection Is Action
While I’m very frustrated to not be in the classroom, I’ve taken this as time to take stock of where I am as a teacher and where I still need to go. It’s given me time to apply for Institute, for scholarships and to observe other corps members in my region.
This isn’t the “fervent note-taking as soft jazz plays” kind of reflecting you may have done to death at Institute. It’s more real-life: In the half-dozen observations I’ve done in the past week, I’ve been able to put into practice many of the skills I’ve been trying hard to master over the last semester. It’s shown me that even if I don’t have “my students” at the moment, I can still make a difference in students’ lives.
4.) Reignite Your Passions Outside the Classroom
Another task I’ve taken to in my newly-found free time is travelling about! I just got back from Atlanta, attending the massive LGBT conference, Creating Change. I was able to meet up with Atlanta and Chicago CMs, as well as talk to a few prospective TFA applicants and talk about LGBT inequality at TFA with some national staff. Win! A week from now I head to MBLGTACC, a queer college conference, acting as advisor for my graduate school. No doubt I’ll run into more folks there who have Teach For America on their minds! It’s a nice reminder that it’s important to make time for your interests when you get back to the classroom.
5.) Remember, You’re Making a Difference
In the average span of five minutes, my students made me feel: shame, joy, rage and a desire to quit. Students broke my supplies, they stole from me, they told me how awful I was. After I came out to my kids, many of my male students refused to shake my hand as I greeted them. Some called me “faggot” under their breath.
But the second they got wind I was being let go, my most-challenging students were the first to give me hugs, behave and ask me not to leave. Since I’ve left, three students – three very, very challenging students- have e-mailed me, telling me how much I’m missed.
Long-story short: You’re making a difference, wherever you are. Leaving at semester showed me this in a super-fast way.
[Postscript: Eight days after losing his job, Blair was hired as an ELL push-in teacher and reading support teacher for a 6th grade class.]