Unemployment, ie What I Did Not Write About 3: The Second Last Week

On Monday, I went to school as I normally did.

(Ok, I have to vent right now. They made the teachers punch in and out. Two things 1 They couldn’t get a computer for my classroom but they could put in computers to have teachers punch in and out. 2 We were salaried. Do other salaried people have to punch in and out?)

I went to the classroom next door because I wanted to find the other teacher, the teacher who would be having my students. She was not in her classroom. As I walked down the hallway, I saw her in another teacher’s classroom. She was sitting, talking to other teachers, crying. I overheard her talking about her son, I believe. At that moment, I realized that I could not tell her the news. I would have to find another time. Later that day, at recess, I spoke to her and asked her if we could talk after school. She had tutoring that evening, but she agreed.

That afternoon, I met her after tutoring. I asked her if the school director had told her that the school would be combining our classes into one and that the school would lay me off. Her eyes widened and she said she had not. I explained that I wanted her to know so that she would have enough time to prepare for having an additional group of students. She expressed sympathy for me and gave me advice about substitute teaching, which she had done for a number of years. She wondered if they were simply planning to tell her on my last day. It certainly seemed possible. Shortly after this, another teacher came into the classroom. We both told her. She was also very sympathetic and horrified. “This makes me not want to work here.”

At that point, I felt sorry for the other teacher. She would end up with thirty students in her classroom. She announced, “I can’t have centers anymore!” because there would simply be no room for all of the students to move. She agreed with me that I should not tell the students until the very last day. With that, she left for the afternoon.

The rest of the week continued normally. I still had tutoring and my Lego club. (We were required to tutor once a week and host a club once a week.) I had been given permission to cancel those events but I did not. In retrospect, there were several reasons for that. First of all, denial. Second of all, pride. Third of all, in some ways, I felt that it would take more work to cancel or find a replacement than it would to simply continue the events.

That week continued normally, although with far less stress. I felt strange walking through the hallways. Oddly enough, I was happy. I saw other teachers stressed and frustrated; I felt relieved. At the same time, I did not really believe that I was going to be laid off. I tried not to act as though I was being laid off. I did not talk to anyone about it. At the time, I was afraid that my students would find out and I would lose all control of my classroom.

The special education teacher gave me her condolences and told me about a job at another charter school. I had no interest in applying for it. True, the school was near my apartment, but I was terrified to think about what that could mean. Starting another grade partway through the first year? It sounded like a nightmare. I head heard more horror stories about charter schools during my time there. One teacher talked about how one principal would go into a classroom to observe a teacher. She would observe them and give them a list of improvements the teacher would need to make in one week and no support to make the corrections. If the teacher could not make the corrections in a week, the teacher was fired. The students would then have substitute teachers for the rest of the year. The teacher who told me that story shook her head and said, “And they wonder why their test scores are bad!”

I also wondered when the Instructional Coordinator would say anything to me. When I told the other teacher of my grade, she asked if the Instructional Coordinator had spoken to me. She had not and I said that I was not sure that she knew that I was being laid off. The teacher replied, “She knows.” During that week, I would walk through the hallway and smile at her, but she never said anything to me.

Even though I was happy (or at least, not unhappy) during that time, I still had the feeling of “dead man walking.” As I write that, I realize how morbid that sounds, but I did not feel sad. When I say “dead man walking,” I mean several ideas. First, I mean the sense of being at the school on borrowed time. Second, I mean that I was somehow different than the other teachers. When I saw them in the hallway, I never told them thew news, but I wondered if they knew. Third, I am referring to the sense of the “big unspoken secret” surrounding me.

At one point, I did tell another elementary school teacher. I cannot remember why I told her, perhaps it was because she could cover tutoring for me. The teacher was very kind and she gave me advice about applying for unemployment. She recommended that I do that right away so that I would not have to wait too long for it to start.

At that time, I was still wondering if the school had any obligation to me. After all, if I had left the school year partway through the year, I would have been required to pay 10% of the remaining contract. The money would have been due on my last day. However, this only worked one way. I was employed at will and the school could dismiss me for any (or no) reason.

I must confess some lingering resentment of this arrangement. I had moved several hours away from home and signed a year lease at an apartment. The contract speaks about how the 10% fee for quitting is not a penalty but compensation paid to the school for the inconvenience of finding a qualified teacher in the middle of the school year. Is it so terrible that I feel that I should have been entitle to compensation for the inconvenience of being laid off (less than two months after signing a year lease for an apartment) in a city to which I only moved for that job?

As the week ended, I found myself increasingly apathetic. I was still in denial, but with a growing bitterness. When I meant my mom and dad for my birthday, they both assured me that the school was never committed to me. It’s hard to argue with that statement. My classroom was not ready for me when I arrived. I did not have textbooks for my students or a copy of the teacher’s workbook or a computer. Other teachers had a projection screen; I did not. The school was not invested in my class. We were little more than an afterthought.

I prepared for my last week of school with far less gusto than the previous weekend. The “dead man walking” feeling was growing, and I felt increasingly like a substitute teacher as opposed to a real instructor.

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