I Am There Every Day, Strong, Caring & Capable.
My name is Jessica I am a teacher in town. I was hired by a local district in 2004. I have taught at two local schools. I have taught kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, math support, and reading support. I love what I do. And I have been excess-ed three times.
Excess-ed means laid off. Let go. It is an embarrassing, crushing experience and my colleagues and I have to face it year after year after year. We are told not to take it personally, but that feels like an impossible task. I am here because every time I go through this, I practice a version of this speech in my head. I feel as though it is time that the board and the community hear it. I am sure that it is not an easy task to consider terminating people’s employment but maybe if you know first hand what it feels like, you will be motivated even more to try and find alternative solutions to our schools’ financial dilemmas.
Every March, for the past 4 years, I am handed a letter. The letter notifies me that my job is at risk. I receive the letter in the middle of my work day, usually on a Monday. Although I have anticipated the letter, my heart sinks every time I get it and I can’t help but cry. I am expected to finish my day and my week with my young students as though nothing has happened. I am expected to smile, be positive, and deliver my lessons with confidence. And I do. For weeks, I drive to school with a knot in my stomach knowing the final blow is about to come. I worry about my job, my bills, rent, gas prices, car payments, my upcoming wedding, and more. I try to stay positive and appreciate my health, my family, and the things I do have but it’s a challenge not to let the worry take over. But my students never know anything is on my mind. I am still there for the girl whose father just went to jail, the boy whose brother is training him for a gang, the girl who is adjusting to her parents’ divorce, the boy who just saw his Grandma in the hospital, and even just the kid who is struggling with spelling and regrouping. I am there every day, strong and caring and capable.
Every April, I receive another letter. This one tells me that my job has, in fact, been terminated. Again, the letter comes in the middle of my day. Again, I keep going like nothing is wrong, but the knot in my stomach gets bigger.
Every May and June I pack up my classroom; the thousands of dollars worth of books and other supplies that I have bought myself. Everything goes into plastic bins, clearly labeled in case I need them again. I take a few home every day and by the end of the school year, my classroom is completely empty. It is overwhelmingly sad but in a way, it’s a relief. The worry I’ve been feeling every day since March is finally over in the last week of June.
Each summer I hope for a miracle and so far I’ve been lucky. A colleague resigned, the federal government provided emergency funding, someone retired, and I got jobs!
Every September I start a new school year, and I let myself think positively. Maybe this will be the year I keep my job, maybe my fiance and I can buy a house, and maybe I won’t have to pack up those plastic bins. But every March it starts again. That means that half my year is spent being a role model for young children, working every day to ensure their futures are successful and bright, all the while not knowing what success my own future holds.
I understand the economy and the constraints it puts on our schools. But I am not a budget. I am not a cost saving measure. I am not my salary. I am not a bargaining chip in the fights between my school board and my union. I am a teacher. I am a person who believes that what I do every day is important. When you talk about increasing class sizes, half day kindergarten, and cutting positions, you are talking about me. Not a number, a seniority list, or a name without a face. You are talking about me.
And you need me, you need us. The truth is, you can purchase any reading or math series you choose. You can base our education system on that of Finland, Singapore, or anywhere else. You can find research to support decisions we don’t agree with. But logically when you increase class sizes to the amount you are considering, the students will suffer. There is simply not enough “teacher” to go around! Think about the last kids’ birthday party you went to or the last play date you supervised. Now add TEN 6 year olds to that. I have no doubt that the quality of education will suffer if you do that in a classroom. And what about half day kindergarten? If you remove half the education from our youngest students in order to save money, how will our district remain competitive in the Race to the Top? How can we possibly continue to meet our goal of Adequate Yearly Progress when you take away critical time for instruction? Our district needs teachers to continue to deliver quality instruction or we will continue to lose our best and brightest to private schools and neighboring districts.
I chose to speak tonight so that you knew how these financial decisions are affecting the lives and well being of your personnel so that when you think of cutting costs, you think of real people too. I also think it is important for us to work together for the sake of our students and our community. At some point, this became a competition between sides. In the end, we all want what is best for our student and schools. Perhaps if we open the lines of communication between teachers, board members, administrators, and families, we can find solutions to our financial problems that satisfy all. I honestly believe that by saving teachers’ jobs, we are also ensuring the quality of our district’s education.