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Thoughts of the Laid Off Teacher

“If your work isn’t what you love, then something isn’t right.” Found a Job by Talking Heads

I applied this lyric to my life and I believe that I have found what I love. But it was taken away from me. It had nothing to do with my ability as a teacher or my inabilities to jump through the hoops that are educational system puts us through. I got laid off because of a poorly planned budget.

First, let’s recap some of my background.

I jumped around as a undergraduate. I was lost. I never got pushed as a student in high school and when I got to college I believed that I would be able to coast through. I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

The work was challenging because I never really applied myself to academic work before. (I still struggle because of this, even though I’ve gotten my master’s, writing is a major chore for me and I’m embarrassed right after I finish each sentence.) I nearly failed out and didn’t ask anybody for help. I was drowning. I got really depressed and thought I had messed up big.

Then I took a history class over summer. I worked second shift and took my class in the morning. Three hours a day, but I loved every second of it. I had always been good at history because I have a good memory and most history classes, if not all, are ones that really only focused on memorizing a topic. I was so occupied with school and work I had no time to feel sorry for myself.

I found history and graduated and then decided to get my master’s in education. Financially and career-wise this was probably a mistake. But, intellectually and overall happiness-wise this was the best decision of my life. I loved pushing pushed and challenged academically. I would not be the teacher I am today had I not gotten my master’s. It was the best worst decision of my life.

I thought I was on my way, but reality then set in. I graduated at semester and had to move back home and substitute teach. It really wasn’t that bad. At first, but you can only had out worksheets and pop in a terrible history documentary so many times before you want to just give up. That summer I only got 3 interviews and no offers. I was hired as a building substitute, the next year, which was more consistent work, but just as mind numbing.

So I got to this past summer. I couldn’t find a high school social studies summer job, so I ended up teaching elementary reading classes. I was willing to do anything to get into a classroom. I got a lot of interviews over summer. This was surprising, especially considering the others who were social studies teachers in my cohort only got a couple interviews and I had seven. But still no job.

Then, I got my break. I got hired at a private school as a part time teacher. I don’t think I’ve ever had as happy an event as that.

I didn’t even care that it was a choice school, I just wanted to teach.

Now being on the inside of an institution that I disagree with philosophically was an interesting experience. But I will say this: the teachers at this school cared about their students as much, if not more than the teachers at the public schools I had subbed at. There were some amazing teachers at this school. Administratively, I’m still unsure about the structure that was in place.

The other nice thing about the school, at least for me, was I was given complete autonomy over my curriculum. I would never get this at a public school. I took my students through lessons that I hoped helped them question the dominate paradigms of our society. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT A GOOD SOCIAL STUDIES CLASS SHOULD DO! It shouldn’t have you memorize facts. Any child can memorize facts, but if a student can analyze, synthesize, critique, and create knowledge that’s what a historian does or should do.

To give an example of some of the topics covered in my class, we talked about: gender roles in society, whether or not it was right to kill Osama Bin Laden or should he be put on trial, the role that money plays in elections and legislation, why there are only two major parties and why both parties like it that way, marijuana legalization, police brutality and abuses, and why I was the only white person in the room.

Tell me what standardized test will measure the learning that went on in these classes. You can’t, because none exists.

Then I learn in the middle of the week that we are having a meeting about our budget. I find out I’m going to get laid off by power point slide. I’m crushed. And still am. I have one more class left with my students.

I decide to give my last lecture. (Funny considering a few things: first job, new teacher, I’m not even sure what it means.) But basically I wanted to students to hear from me what I had hoped for them to get out my classes. I told them that they are all smart no matter what a test says. That the tests are racially and economically biased and don’t mean anything. I tell them about how much they have taught me because their stories and experiences are much different than mine and I’ve learned so much from them all. I tell them to find purpose in life. Treat people with kindness and fairness. To hope. To dream.

I don’t know if it got to them. I opened up and I let my emotions flowed. I cried; I cried a lot that day. Some cried with me. Many hugged me. They wanted to petition and they did a sit in, and I appreciated it, but I know I’m not going to get back to them.

I had students tell me that I was going to be ok. I told them that I knew I was going to be ok. I’m a white straight male the game is rigged in my favor, but I told them that they had to make sure that they questioned everything and understood that they had power. I wanted to help them get through their journey.

7 weeks. That’s all I had with them, but I’ll never forget them. It sometimes doesn’t even feel real, but instead feels like the best dream I ever had and will never be able to recreate.

Now I am back trying to get on sub rolls and I already dread it. But those kids gave me purpose. I know that I am suppose to be a teacher. I could do nothing else. Teaching is not a job for me. Teaching is me.

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