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Teacher Pink Slip Blues

With 26,000 public school teachers receiving lay-off notices last week, what affect does that have on their morale—and on our kids' education?



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Last Friday was Friday the 13th. It was also “Pink Friday” for 26,000 California public school teachers. That’s when they received preliminary notices that their jobs might not be around next academic year unless their school districts find money to keep them employed.

Over the weekend, my fifth-grade son told me that one of his lower-grade teachers at his Walnut Creek elementary had received a pink slip. She had been one of his favorite teachers. She is younger, and when she taught him, was in her second year at the school. She had an energy and enthusiasm for the job that my son and other students found inspiring.

The pink slips are not definitive lay-off notices. The districts are required by law to give employees warning that there might not be money for their jobs in the coming year. During last year’s state budget crisis, when mass lay-off notices also were issued to teachers as state budget negotiations dragged on, it took until late in the summer for many superintendents to finalize the number of pink-slipped teachers who would be able to return to the classrooms.

It can be uniquely challenging on these teaching rookies to get those pink slips. Although they are new to the profession, they are often the most enthusiastic teachers you’ll find. Whether they are in the early 20s or older, after having made a career switch into education, they are often eager to get into a classroom and work with kids.

That’s the message I heard last spring from two Mt. Diablo Unified School District teachers who had just received their lay-off notices. They were speaking at a town hall meeting on education. The meeting was hosted at Walnut Creek’s Las Lomas High School by then-State Senator (now assemblyman) Tom Torlakson, then-Assemblyman Guy DeSaulnier (now senator), and local parent teacher associations. At the meeting, the legislators and local school leaders were giving the audience an update on last year’s budget crisis.

One of the teachers said receiving a pink slip, being told she might not have a job next year, is, of course, demoralizing for her. It makes her wonder if she should give up teaching altogether and try something else. But she was more worried about how her job insecurity affected her focus on her work and her teaching relationship with her students. “It hurts the kids,” she said.

I was reminded of this teacher’s message this week when I received an e-mail from Emily St. Pierre, a student at Lafayette’s Acalanes High School. Emily said her mother, a public school teacher, had received a lay-off notice. Emily explained that she had made sign and held it up at Acalanes on Pink Friday to protest the lay-off notices her mother and other public school teachers were receiving.

She writes: 

"These little, not-so-pink slips are being handed out like free samples at Costco, to everyone from brand new, bright-eyed teachers to long-time respected staff members. Typically, pink slips are given out to teachers based on seniority. Teachers who have only taught for a year or two are more likely to receive pink slips than a teacher who had taught for 10. Also, when a teacher teaches an AP (Advanced Placement) class they are less likely to get a slip due to higher academic goals set by the school. When it comes to an example of seniority, I think of two English teachers at my school. One has a good 10 years of teaching under his belt and has developed a good, conventional style of educating his students. Then, comes [another teacher] who has only taught at Acalanes for two years, but has a young, original way of encouraging her students’ ability to learn, while she is still trying to find her place. So which teacher deserves to stay?”

The budget situation for Acalanes this year is not as bad as it could have been, but it still isn’t great. Instead of needing to issue notices to 92 teachers, as thought last month, the district issued them to around 40 teachers, librarians, and counselors. Superintendent Jim Negri hopes that the number will drop once donations from parents’ clubs come in and foundation budgets are finalized.

But this uncertainty is affecting the morale of teachers—and of students like Emily. She says:

"Learning about pink slips and how teachers, especially my mom, will be let go, makes me feel insignificant. Now I worry about not hanging out with friends and going to movies 'cause I don't want to waste any money. Even buying milk makes me feel weird, knowing I could lose my house because of the money we threw away on useless things. The economic times right now make me feel like everything is collapsing, except my school, but now that I learn my school is going underwater, it makes me feel small, like I don't have a place to go when times get worse."