I received the news that I was being laid off on a Friday.
It was at the end of a terrible day, undoubtedly the worst day I had ever spent in a classroom. I could tell the story, and I did tell the story to friends and family members. However, I am not going to share the story online at this time.
I was called into the office of the principal. He wasn’t really called the principal; I can’t remember what we called him. I was terrified; I was convinced that I was going to be in trouble, and I could see my world spiraling out of control. At that moment, I did not feel that I could bear another challenge.
When I went into the office, the principal assured me that I was not in trouble. He had spoken to the dean of students (I had related the whole incident to her) and he assured me that I had not done anything wrong. He continued to talk about how enrollment in the school was far lower than anticipated. This was especially true at my grade level. I only had ten children in my classroom. He continued that they had tried for over a month to boost enrollment in the classroom without success. At this point, I could sense what was coming. He seemed hesitant to say it, he paused, struggling to find the words. At that point, I said it for him. “You’re laying me off.”
He responded in the affirmative. To be honest, I was so relieved.
Why did I feel relieved?
I was not being fired or disciplined. That was a big, big fear for me. (It still is.) Plus, I was exhausted. At that point, between teaching, lesson planning, grading, laminating and cutting out the laminated items, I was working seven days a week. My friends were in Cleveland so I had not seen friends in almost two months. To me, being laid off meant I was going to have a break, a break I desperately needed. I also felt that I could have a better future if I was laid off. I know that sounds difficult, but hear me out. Teaching is very competitive in Ohio, and if I had been fired, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to find another job. I figured that being laid off was different. Mostly, I was relieved because I was just so miserable. (There was also a strong element of denial in that moment.) Every day in the teacher’s lounge, I would look at the teachers eating lunch. They were exhausted, frustrated, and deeply unhappy. That frightened me. It was only September. I know that September and October are very difficult months for teachers but I intuited that the exhaustion and frustration would not improve over the coming months; it would only get worse. I remember thinking, slightly panicked, “If this is how people feel now, what is it going to be like in a few months?!?!”
My principal explained that he had never had to lay off a teacher before. At that point, he apologized for the inconvenience he was causing me. After all, I had moved several hours away from home, signed a year lease, just for that job.
“I know this is a huge inconvenience for you,” he stated apologetically.
After a moment of silence, I responded, “That’s putting it mildly.” I did not want to be vindictive, but I was not letting them off the hook either.
He explained that he was giving me two weeks notice, essentially. My last day would be two weeks from that day. He volunteered that he had actually been advised not to give me any notice at all; he was instructed to simply lay me off and tell me that day was my last day. I emphatically replied that I would have been very upset if he had done that. (There would have been no way to clean out my room in an afternoon.)
I will always be very grateful for him for that extra two weeks. It gave me two extra weeks of work and a little extra money. I also had the opportunity to clean out my room in a more thoughtful way. No matter how angry I am at many members of the charter school, and the school itself, I will always be thankful to him for that.
We thanked each other and were very cordial and professional throughout the entire discussion. I left feeling shocked, but as though a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I also felt sympathy for the other teacher in my grade level. Her classroom was about to go from 18 students to 28 students. I also wondered if she would be given any warning.
I walked back to my classroom and saw my mentor teacher. We had a scheduled meeting so that I could talk about organizing my classroom and classroom management. We sat down and I immediately started by telling her that I had been laid off. However, I wanted to still meet with her because I wanted to learn from her. We talked about organizing the classroom and different management strategies. At one point, another teacher from next door stopped by and wanted to see how I was doing. (She knew I was having a difficult day.) I told her I was feeling better. She opened up about a charter school where she used to work and the difficult students that she had in that school. At some point, I turned to my mentor.
“Should I tell her?” I asked?
“I think you have to tell her now,” she answered.
I told the other teacher that I was being laid off. She expressed her sympathies and offered advice.
“You know what you should do? You should sub and see if you can get into public schools. I so want to go public. I am sick of charter schools. Same shit, different school.”
We mutually complained and then we all had to leave. I was having dinner with a friend of mine from the high school. I told her she would not believe what happened to me that day. I told her the story of my awful day and ended with my being laid off.
“I can’t believe you’re getting laid off!”
She asked me if I was going to go home to Cleveland or stay there. I stated that, at that point, I felt that I was going to stay there. I had signed a year lease and I felt, to a certain extent, that I meant to be there at that point. I consoled her to a certain extent; I was still in denial about what being laid off really meant. The last chapter of The Help came to my mind, where Aibileen has been fired from her job. She tries to figure out how she will support herself now and she sits down at the bus stop and begins to laugh. I felt a bit like that in that moment. My friend nodded in understanding. She knew it was bittersweet.
That night proceeded as I had planned. I went out to a Meetup event to a corn maze and made pleasant conversations with strangers. When people asked me what I did, I told them, “Well, I teach, but I just found out today that I’m being laid off.” People were dismayed but supportive. Surprisingly, I still had a great time at the event. I do not remember much about the rest of the night. Most likely I passed it watching videos online, nothing unusual in that. (I did not have a TV.)
I also thought about how I was going to tell my mom the next day.