The end of the school year is always stressful for all teachers, but the end of the 2014-15 school year was, for me, purgatory. Which is ironic. Wait for it.
It was a lovely afternoon in early May when the principal asked me and the other first grade teacher to the office after school. I was getting ready to tutor a student, so my mind was on her until I noticed the looks on the faces of my principal and vice principal. They were funereal, This was fitting, as a few sentences later, they were delivering a eulogy. Due to budget constraints, a superfluous position in the school had been cut, and the teacher in that position (whom had been a long-standing fixture in the school, like plastic lunch trays and steely water fountains,) had chosen to teach first grade. Thus, one of us would have to find another job.
I wasn’t worried so much at first. I had received a good evaluation. The other teacher had not. I tutored children after school. He was out the door at 3:05 every day. I got along nicely with my parents. He had numerous complaints lodged against him. I worked hard to make my room an inviting learning environment for my students. He still had unopened boxes of resource materials from two years before, stacked up on cabinets and blocking windows. No way would I be canned. As I sat with my student later that afternoon, however, a thought hit me like an arrow. I’m not Catholic. He is.
In a parochial school, a Protestant teacher often feels as though a target is on her back. A large, Jesus colored target. (What color was Jesus? Brown. FYI.) At that moment, the arrow had hit my target. It was confirmed shortly thereafter that I was, indeed, the one whose contract would not be renewed for the following year. I was being RIFfed.
RIF, for those of you with great jobs and aren’t familiar with the term, stands for “Reduction in Force.” Cutbacks. Downsizing. Layoffs. Budget cuts. It’s the dirtiest dirty word for teachers.
My heart sank. No, actually, the whole me sank. I sank to the level of self-pity that caused me to say, “It’s not fair.”
I hated it when my kids were young and they would say that phrase. No two persons are the same, and no two situations are the same, and because each person and situation had to be judged with different circumstances, fairness was a concept that was, at best, subjective. At times in life, things worked out in a way that was nice for everyone, and hey, that was great. But mostly, life isn’t like that. Or, as I would say to my poor sons, “Fair only comes to town once a year.”
If you live in the Midwest, you understand the excitement around the County Fair. Once each year, for a week in the summer, the carnival comes to town. In the 1980s, it went like this: you hadn’t seen a lot of your middle school friends since May, they would all be there at the fair, especially the boy who hadn’t called like you thought he would, even after that zit on your cheek went away. So you put on your best floral jean shorts, your new shoulder-padded t-shirt, your scrunchie socks, and your new white Nikes that your mom said you couldn’t wear until school started again, and you went to the fair. You saved your babysitting money and bought an Unlimited Ride Writstband on Unlimited Ride Writstband night, and you rode dangerous and dirty rides ran by dangerous and dirty carnies, and ate dangerous and dirty fried food. It was the best week of summer.
But then it was over.
And now my job is over. And it’s not fair.
I’m a damn fine teacher. Co-workers told me so. Parents of my students told me so. All was conveyed to me in those last weeks of May, when I had to get up each morning, go to school, sing a good-morning song, and count down the days left in my job. I was dead, but my soul was not allowed to leave. I was in a state of purgatory, the Catholic realm of existence between earth and heaven. As afore noted, I’m not Cathoic. Purgatory is an belief to which I do not even subscribe. But if I’m a good teacher, how is it that I’ve been voted off the island? Unfair.
Not only do I believe I’m a good teacher, but I fought very hard to become one. I didn’t just head to college after high school and say, “Gee Willikers, I like kids, so I think I’ll become a teacher,” and let my parents foot the bill for a career that I associated with babysitting and youth group Sundays. Nope. I dragged my sorry butt back to college in my 30s, as a single mother, working full time to pay for my house and crazy shit like food. I chose teaching as a career after working as a preschool teacher and knowing that education was my calling. I existed on often 2 hours of sleep. I dragged a bag of textbooks to my kids’ sporting events and band concerts. I proudly earned a near perfect GPA at the end of it all in 2010. All to be unemployed. Unfair.
As a teacher, I worked dillegently and creatvely to make great readers and writers. I have data to prove that my students excelled during my watch. And the kiddos in my class learned values such as compassion, respect, kindness, honesty, bravery, and peace. If those aren’t at the forefront of a good Catholic education, they should be. Unfair.
It’s summer now, and school is over. The task of finding another teaching job takes up all of my mind and a lot of each day. Searches. Applications. Interviews. Lather, rinse, repeat. Most days I just accept that it is what it is, what happened is behind me, and I actively work to move forward.
The Shelby County Fair is this week. I can smell it from my house. It smells like 4-H cows and Polish sausage. Maybe this is the week that my fair comes to town and a job offer presents itself. Perhaps it’s time to pull out those scrunchy socks and go buy a corn dog with the last of my paychecks. If all else fails, I could learn to run the Tilt-a-Whirl and embark on a new career path.