Reduction in Force (and Spirit)

When I ask her how much of her information I can share, Megan says, “There’s a part of me that says put it out there, but there’s a part of me that is a little more concerned than I’d admit about losing a job.”

The thing is, Megan’s already lost her job – 3 times.

A teacher in a district in the Southwest, Megan has been RIF’d (reduction in force) three times in her 7 years as a teacher.

Megan explains the process to me.

In March or April, principals deliver form letters to teachers’ classrooms letting them know RIF will be announced.

“People have been pretty understanding,” she says, “Still, it’s a form letter.”

Each time Megan has been RIF’d, she’s been hired back, learning in June or July where she’ll be teaching and signing a contract near the end of August.

“When I got the last one,” she tells me, “I put a piece of red duct tape on it and wrote something like, ‘This is like a spring day. In just a minute it will change.'”

It did.

Megan is teaching at the same school she started at – sort of. It was combined with one of the other schools in the city this year, so it’s not quite the same.

Luckily, Megan got laid off from the now-defunct school as well, so she’s in the unique position of knowing and having worked with both faculties.

While she’s talking, there’s a hopefulness you wouldn’t expect from someone who’s had this experience.

“One thing that’s good is that I’ve been able to work with a variety of different teachers,” Megan says.

At the same time, the reality of the situation is difficult to ignore. She describes the faculty as existing in two separate campes. “It’s not very connected. There’s all these fractures in something that could be built with a very strong foundation.”

Adding to the tectonic stress is the budget freeze in Megan’s district.

“We actually took a hit if you look at the numbers and not how they phrase everything.”

“I think it’s difficult for teachers to continually build rapport with admin too. It’s hard for people to start new programs if they don’t feel like they’ll be supported financially or professionally. If they don’t feel like it’s going to last more than a year, people don’t want to put energy in.”

She talks of running into two former students at the grocery store. She’d thought, before getting RIF’d, that she would be teaching them again this year. The students have been forced  to build new connections with their new teacher, and Megan say’s it’s not going particularly well.

“We spent a lot of time building that classroom community,” she pauses, ” If I’d been able to work with them for two years, the strides we could have made with them as learners would be different than if we have to start over every year.”

Megan’s starting to feel the stress of the seemingly constant reshuffling as well.

I ask her, if the three notices haven’t put her off teaching, where she sees her breaking point. What would push her out of what she describes as her dream job?

“As they try to streamline things and make things more efficient and less costly, I feel like I have less freedom. When I feel like I don’t have the freedom or trust of my administrators to facilitate learning, then I’m going to have to go.”

She admits to having it easier than some, “My feelings would be very different if I had kids or a mortgage or giant amounts of debt to pay off.”

Though Megan says she stays in the community because, “I feel most at home and I feel as though my voice is most valid,” I have to worry that no one is stopping to listen to that voice or the voices of thousands of teachers like her.

5 thoughts on “Reduction in Force (and Spirit)

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  3. my heart goes out to Megan. and her students. though, i feel like my hands are tied and I'm just standing there, heart on my sleeve, thinking that there's nothing i can do. we need to revolutionize education, but how? how do we convince the powers that be that there really are innovative, creative, incredible teachers & schools out there that should become models for the rest of us? AND that individual differences, teaching styles, uniqueness are actually positive things — that we shouldn't become cookie cutters of “the best”?clayton christensen et al's book, Disrupting Class, has an interesting perspective — best of all, it is actually tinged w/ hopefulness 🙂 I just finished reading it, and although it's pushing more for computer-aided learning i truly appreciate the sentiment that education has been doing a mighty fine job considering the fact that our “target” has been transformed several times over.anyway, glad Paul Oh suggested I read your blog. very captivating voice you have.

    • April, thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. I'm sure Megan echoes that sentiment. I read _Disrupting Class_ last summer and had some issues with how much it seemed to pull back from the social nature of learning, but also saw some of the optimism you mention. I recently read David Perkins' _Making Learning Whole_. I certainly recommend it.

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