With budget shortfalls in every state (and nearly every household) in the country, many school districts are looking at layoffs this year. In Providence, Rhode Island, the mayor was facing a March 1st deadline to make decisions about which jobs would be cut. Not knowing what staffing changes would need to be made in the coming year, he decided to send pink slips to all 2000 school employees in the district so that he could then rehire those he wanted to retain.
Teachers are understandably hurt and angry but the mayor maintains that he was just doing what needed to be done to maintain budget flexibility since he would not be able to lay off any teachers after March 1st. For now, the fired teachers continue to work and serve the children of Providence, waiting to hear if they will be rehired.
Teaching has always been a difficult profession but conditions are seeming more and more hostile for these professionals who do arguably the world’s most important job. On one hand, I can understand why the mayor made the decision he did. He knew he would have to lay people off but he needed more time to carefully weigh his staffing options so he took a drastic step in the name of administrative flexibility.
On the other hand, I wonder how many good teachers will turn their back on the profession because they cannot handle the uncertainty. It takes a thick skin to be a teacher these days. The sad thing is, the teachers I remember loving the most were often the softest, the sweetest, the least likely to stand up for themselves.
I also loved my young energetic teachers. With many states conducting their layoffs based on seniority, this means that many of our most promising teachers will be fired, while some who are worn out and no longer caring about their jobs will sit comfortably, knowing their positions are secure. (Inline clarification following reader feedback - the reference to "worn out" teachers is referring to the few who are worn out and just phoning it in, not the many dedicated, experienced teachers who continue to serve our communities. This is not by any means meant to imply that the vast majority of experienced teachers are not of tremendous worth.)
I don’t know what the answer is. I would hate to be in Mayor Taveras’s position. To be a superintendent right now? Forget about it. Assessing teacher effectiveness in a meaningful way to determine which teachers should remain employed during an economic downturn seems incredibly difficult. But I also think the time for retaining teachers strictly on the basis of seniority is long past.
So, what? Should we fire all of them? If so, how do we determine who will be rehired? Maybe if we hire and fire them enough times, so many will quit that we won’t have to make any decisions anymore.
Doesn’t this all make you want to go and hug your favorite teacher? Take her some gift-wrapped hand sanitizer?