Saturday, June 17, 2006

How do you explain a layoff?

First, let me get something straight.

I'm a teacher union guy.

Haven't ever been in a union before being a teacher.

Didn't see the need for their existence, or the need for me to join one.

However, I was converted into one by a very wise colleague. Some might say turned, akin to a vampire. The story, however shall come at some point later. I don't want to run out of material.

I work hard as a union steward. I try to help people solve their problems. It feels good to be a resource to someone, even a sounding board for their ideas on their situation. We are always asked to fix things and make things better for our students, it's good to help another teacher once in a while.

So after doing all those things, working so hard for my teacher comrades, my district got hit with a budget deficit and needed to cut some teacher positions. We have a number of schools in our district, and only 2 high schools. Several teachers at my school (a high school) got laid off. It flew around the building like wildfire, and I had some very angry people speaking to me almost immediately. Now I know they weren't angry with me, but I know they were angry with the system that got their colleagues laid off, and obviously the union in this situation is all powerful so they should have done something to prevent this from happening to their colleagues.

So the conversations went something like this.

"Dr. Homeslice, why did X get laid off? He's young, yeah, but he does a much better job than Y. I mean Y missed 15 days of school this year! X relates so well to the kids, they talk to him and look at his pass rate!"

"Well, see-"

"And another thing...the union is to blame! The union is to blame for protecting a teacher who does nothing, who doesn't care about the kids....and sacrificing a young vibrant teacher who is making a difference. Man, they better not schedule me to share a room with teacher Y next year."

"Ahem. I understand your--"

"Now that I think about it, the union should stand up and do something. They should stand up and fix this and stop this from happening! They can fix this right? This is a mistake, isn't it?"

"Actually, it's--"

"You know, if they can't do anything, why am I paying dues? Why don't I just quit paying my dues-- I mean, if you're not going to do anything for me...wait, I meant your organization isn't going to do anything for me then I'm not paying. I can use that money for other things. Maybe I'll give it to Mr. X!"

"If you do that then--"

"I don't want to talk about it anymore, it just upsets me. I've got to go, lunch duty calls."

"Nice talking to you."

This is like a composite exchange, and I have livened it up for you. I don't get cut off often, but I've learned to let angry teachers vent when they need to and run the active listening program so they feel listened to. Once they're done talking or venting, I try to answer their questions if possible.

One thing I have learned from this (and past) experience is that explaining why it's acceptable practice for a hardworking career-young teacher to get laid off instead of an older, not as hardworking teacher is like....I don't even know. Perhaps because they don't know the contract, they don't live the contract... like me.

And they're angry. They're really angry. They think the union has let them down. I've got news for you people-- the job of the union is to make sure everyone is getting treated fairly! We don't save anyone-- we just guarantee fairness. If someone isn't being treated fairly, then it looks like we're saving them. In actuality, we're just trying to give them the same deal as everyone else.

I found myself unable to come up with a better explanation that what I am about to blog down for all of you wonderful folks. That is, put quite simply, many things in the education world when it comes to a "bottom line" is subjective. We all have the colleagues who practically give A's to kids when they come into the room. We also all have colleagues who make their class akin to the academic version of climbing Mount Everest without oxygen.

Why do I give those examples? Because grades can be fudged. Attendance is subjective, given the students you have. Discipline referrals can't be viewed as absolute. There are no absolutes when it comes to judging a teacher. Especially administratively-- rubrics or not, multiple observations and walkthroughs notwithstanding-- all administrative evaluations are biased, one way or the other. I don' think you can have a truly non-partisan evaluation from an administrator (good or bad).

So how then, do you judge when a teacher should be laid off compared to another teacher?

Hopefully, dear reader, I have made my case that all of the above criteria is subjective and not an absolute benchmark in judging whether a teacher should be laid off.

What IS a good benchmark is the dates they were hired, and the dates the local school board approves their hiring. This is ABSOLUTE. You can't argue with the 14th of February versus the 13th of February. Numbers. Math. Incontrovertible. Fair (numerically speaking).

But wait, you say, what happens to the good teachers who get laid off and the crappy teachers who still have their job?


It's the job of the administration to make sure the teachers are doing what they should be doing when they should be doing it. It's my job to make sure the administration is going about this is a fair manner. If they're not, then I'll get 'em. I have before.

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Kalyn Denny said...

Interesting blog. I was not only president of my local but also on the NEA Board, and as you noticed I give a little bit of education commentary on my little cooking blog. You're right, being a Local President is an incredibly challenging job. When I finished the four years, I was happy to go back to the fourth graders.

NYC Educator said...

Thanks for submitting this to the carnival. A thoughtful and tough call.

I lost my job several times as a young teacher, and blamed the union too.

FXKLM said...

Clarity isn't everything. Your argument could just as easily support laying off teachers in alphabetical order.

Dr. Homeslice said...


Okay, fine alpahabetically....that is something that can't be disputed.

ms. whatsit said...

I completely agree with you.

It amazes me just how anti-union our society has become. People forget the days when workers had limited voices and hence limited rights. It's the collective voices of unionized workers that have made life better for so many of us.

It is disappointing how America has bought into the Republican lie that unions are bad.


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