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Staying Employed: A Struggle for Teachers

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

dispatch-from-the-education-front-the-employment-game

Not a Comfy Job

Don't believe the hype; being a teacher is not a comfy job. One has to juggle several duties that have little to do with teaching. And, often, they have to do these tasks in undesirable environments that include rundown classrooms, outdated material, and inept administrators.

Most importantly, that so-called comfy, tenured, job that supposedly anyone can do -- and has job security, too -- has a major turnover ratio and is not immune to economic downturns.

Lately, the occupation has been under assault for various reasons. Some of this is political while others are a matter of school funding. Just like any occupation, teaching can be affected by recessions and layoffs. The employment perils are real for teachers.

An educator may face a tremendous amount of stress, both emotional and financial.

To give a broad picture of what's happening in the profession, teachers may wake up one day to discover :

  • they don’t have an adequate place to teach;
  • they are taking on more duties (sometimes not qualified to do) than ever before;
  • Their paychecks will stagnate and remain at the same amount for years; and
  • They receive a pink slip because their program has been terminated or the district's funding has been slashed.

As a result, teaching can be a struggle. An educator may face a tremendous amount of stress, both emotional and financial.

Probationary Period and the Non-Rehire Process

Adding to both the emotional and financial stress in the professions, there are various ways teachers can lose their jobs.

Popular belief has it that teachers are protected by tenure. After several years of teaching and good observations by administrators, teachers can obtain a form of job security that will protect them from the dreaded non-rehire (when the district decides not to have the teacher return after the end of the school year).

Non-rehires affect non-tenured teachers (better known in educational circles as probationary teachers) and usually occurs within the first two or three years of teaching. District officials or school administrators don't have to give a written or oral reason for making this decision.

In addition, it doesn't show up on the teachers record, thus it won't count against them when they go to seek a job in another district (in fact, it's not unusual that a non-rehire will be rescinded by the district, if the district determines that student enrollment will be higher than expected and/or teachers are needed to cover newly formed classes).

What makes the non-rehire stressful and devastating is that it doesn't have to do with the teacher's skills or ability to do the job. Student enrollment, which directly affects annual school funding, is more of a factor than anything else.

dispatch-from-the-education-front-the-employment-game

Still, new state policies can affect the hiring and non-rehiring practices within districts. As an example, in 2003, my district let go of a majority of its first and second-year teachers. This was due to a change in credential policies -- the defining "highly-qualified teachers" -- meant to honor the No Child Left Behind, which affected funding on both state and federal levels.

Before this law was enacted, new probationary teachers were designated as:

  • Pre-intern, non-credentialed teachers not officially enrolled in a credentialed program;
  • Intern, a non-credentialed teacher enrolled in a credentialed program.
  • Credential probationary, a non-tenured teacher with a credential.

Simply put, under the new policy, if a teacher was hired as a pre-intern, they were let go. Probationary teachers with credentials and interns were spared, but not by budgetary cuts to certain programs.

As of this writing, pre-intern are almost non-existent throughout most major public school districts. Even those designated as interns are hard to find.

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Tenure is Not Job Security

While non-tenured teachers are known to have the probationary status, tenured teachers are honored as being "permanent." It is a distinction all teachers want and it does make life on campus a bit more relaxing. But, the biggest misconception is that it offers job security.

Being tenured may seem like a teacher can't get fired. Also, it implies that they will be kept on the job until they retire. Not true. What it really means is that if a teacher is to be terminated from the job, there needs to be a good reason for it

Teachers with tenure can be fired or laid off. The big difference is that there has to be a good reason and a due process to follow for termination. This means that administrators have to show proof that a teacher is ineffective or has violated conducts unbecoming of an educator.

The process can be long, sometimes lasting over years. Also, administrators hoping to fire teachers they deem ineffective, have to collect a lot of paperwork. Part of that process is done through yearly classroom observations.

Non-tenured teachers are observed every year until they are tenured. Afterward, upon obtaining tenure status, they are observed every other year. However, if tenured teachers do not meet the criteria listed for the observation or policies devised by the district, they have to go through another observation the next year. Throughout that year they will need to improve the areas that were identified as "unsatisfactory".

If the teachers consistently fail these observation, various "teacher training" actions are needed. Officially, the teachers are given a chance to improve. If several interventions don't work, and documentation proves it, administrators can present termination to the school board where it is put up for a vote. This is the official process.

The big difference is that there has to be a good reason and a due-process to follow when it comes to tenured teachers

While non-tenured teachers are known to have the probationary status, tenured teachers are honored as being "permanent." It is a distinction all teachers want and it does make life on campus a bit more relaxing. But, the biggest misconception is that it offers job security.

Teachers can be fired or laid off. The big difference is that there has to be a good reason and a due-process to follow when it comes to tenured teachers. This means that administrators have to show proof that a teacher is ineffective or has violated conducts unbecoming of an educator.

The process can be long, sometimes lasting over years. Also, administrators hoping to fire teachers they deem ineffective, have to collect a lot of paperwork. Part of that process is done through yearly classroom observations.

Non-tenured teachers are observed every year until they are tenured. Afterward, they are observed every other year. However, if tenured teachers do not meet the criteria listed for the observation, they have to go through another observation the next year. Throughout that year they will need to improve the areas they were deemed "unsatisfactory".

If the teacher consistently fails these observations, various "teacher training" actions are needed. Officially, the teacher is given a chance to improve. If several interventions don't work, and documentation proves it, administrators can present termination to the school board and put it up for a vote. That's the often the official process

Unofficially, administrators can and will make life hard for the tenured teacher they believe to be unfit for the job. While they have documentation, such as observation reports to work with, they may subjectively oppose the teacher. Sometimes, the reasons are petty (in cases like these, it is important for targeted teachers to seek and file a grievance or contact a union representative to seek assistance in the matter).

Teachers resigning due to bullying tactics by administrators is nothing new and continues despite protocols (such as observation and teaching improvement process) being put into place (I've written about this before).

There are other ways a tenured teacher can be let go by a district. They involve:

  • Committing a serious crime on or off campus (i.e. sexual abuse or murder);
  • Discovery of past infractions or events (example: a teacher in Oxnard was terminated after it was discovered she used to be an adult film actress before becoming a teacher).
  • Public outrage toward a teacher's comment or beliefs;
  • Discovered to not teaching to the standard; or
  • layoffs

Teachers Get the Pink Slip

The Great Recession of the late 2000s and early 2010s, didn't spare anyone, including teachers. My district, just like almost every district in the country, was hit hard financially.

Hard and deep cuts were made. As a result, everything from school supplies, summer school funding, and even graduation requirements were affected. The latter had a profound effect on teachers.

One of the requirements for graduation was physical education. Students needed 20 units (or two years) of PE. In 2010, in a cost-cutting move, the school board voted to reduce the requirement to only one year.

This move had a drastic effect; nearly half of all the district's PE teachers were given the pink slip. While a layoff is not the same as being fired, it still means that these teachers were out of a job.

Some teachers were able to switch to another topic. Others became substitute teachers. Surprisingly, most laid off teachers eventually came back after two years. Still, their lives were disrupted. And many had to work for less for a time being.

While school districts struggle for funds to keep certain programs running, they also have a difficult time retaining teachers

Consequence on Education

There's a contradiction that exists in public school education. While school districts struggle for funds to keep certain programs running, they also have a difficult time retaining teachers.

For all the layoffs and non-rehiring, districts face a problem of teacher retention. Many teachers quit or move on to other districts. The reasons vary. The results are a mess.

During good and bad economic times, teacher retention has been a huge problem. Simply put, constant changes in policies, stagnant payment, pressure from administrators and working conditions create a stressful environment. As a result, morale plummets and has been doing so for more than a decade.

It also creates a whole new form of struggle for teachers. Here are just a few:

  • Some teachers bounce from one district to another, never getting the chance to become tenured. They will not prosper from being placed appropriately in the district’s pay columns, despite the years they may have put in.
  • A school or an entire school district’s teaching staff will change every two or three years. This is particularly true for districts that serve students from low-income neighborhoods.
  • Some districts will have only a handful of teachers with 10 years of job experience or more.

For teachers, this means that the profession is unstable.

In the worst case scenario, several day-to-day substitute teachers end up being assigned to cover these classes, resulting in nothing being taught.

The consequences extend to the classroom. In some cases, a teaching position will go unfilled before the first day of school and remain this way throughout the school year. As a result, long-term subs lacking knowledge and experience teaching a particular subject matter are placed in charge of these classes.

In the worst case scenario, several day-to-day substitute teachers end up being assigned to cover these classes, resulting in nothing being taught.

Another consequence of this teaching shortage is that the employed teachers will have to take on more than they bargained for. They may have to teach outside their topics for a few periods. Or, they will see the student population in their class grow to near unmanageable levels.

Although state laws in several states have placed limits on the student count in a classroom,these laws have been challenged successfully in several districts or haven’t been strongly enforced.

Are there Solutions?

The lack of funds -- which seems to be a perpetual issue despite outside economic factors -- forces district officials to play gymnastics with everything associated with education. This includes the hiring, firing and placement of teachers.

Still, the main priority for these officials is to find the best way to educate students. The main tools for any district are the teachers. This means that the most qualified teachers need to be in the classroom doing their jobs and not worrying about their job status or working conditions.

District officials shouldn’t be the only one to realize this. State and federal politicians need to understand that an educated populous can help the country can benefit everyone Again, teachers are at the forefront of making this possible.

Another important group that can help by simply realizing how valuable a teacher can be is the general public. Most of them will have had several teachers in their life that helped or inspired them to learn. Also, many of them will be sending their children to school, hoping that they will learn from teachers how to become productive members of society.

Times are tough, but the teaching profession doesn’t have to be that way. The current employment game occurring in districts around the country is simply a diversion from what really needs to happen in the classroom. And the only way this game will change is if everyone starts realizing that teachers are too valuable to be toyed with this this nerve-racking game.

Work Cited

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© 2012 Dean Traylor

Comments

Cecil Kenmill from Osaka, Japan on December 02, 2018:

Insightful. I never knew it was like this. Because it was a gov job and unionized, I figured it was stable. Good info here for anyone who wants to be a teacher.

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