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Teacher Voice

I’m a Teacher of the Year and I Got Laid Off Because of Budget Cuts

I got my letter last week. My principal met me at my door. I knew it was coming. Still, it hurt. The formality of “terminate your contract effective…pursuant to Minnesota Statute 122A.40, subdivision 5” felt weird. I hate professionalism in these moments. I wish my letter said, “this sucks, shit happens.” That would have been nice. That would have felt right. I taught in this school for my first six years of teaching, then I moved schools and this school switched districts. So, when I came back this year, it felt like coming home, even though it was my first year in the district. Now, I’m not going to get to stay. Since getting cut, I’ve gotten requests from a few media sources, a few think-tanky organizations, a few loud voices, a few big deals. They want to hear about my thoughts on LIFO (Last In, First Out), and isn’t it awful that I, a Teacher of the Year, got cut. They want me to be the face, for now, of the anti-LIFO movement. Nah. I’m not the LIFO poster-boy they want me to be. I got cut because of seniority, yes, but I can’t point you to the teachers in my building who should have been cut instead. We all deserve to be here. One of the best things we could do for our students, for all of our students, would be to retain every damn teacher who wants to be exactly where they are. People who know the students, know the culture of their building, know their families, who have built trust among coworkers and kids and bosses. Not just me. I’m not special. Each one of the teachers cut from my building, from every building, for budget reasons, is a problem. In other words: The order that we cut teachers is way less of an issue to me than the fact we are cutting so many teachers. There are groups that should be protected. Schools should not be forced for budget reasons to cut teachers of color, or math, or science teachers. It should also be said that we are doing no one, certainly not students and teachers, any favors by making new teachers start over and over and over again in the years that they most need stability and protection to do their jobs. And man, I get it. It’s not the world I live in or the level I work on, but I get that when we look at how much we spend on education, it has to feel like impossibly too much. It has to seem like surely we can cut somewhere. I get that schools and districts don’t always spend money wisely. They buy dumb curriculum that fixes nothing. They bring in specialists and consultants and trainers whose primary skill seems to be signing contracts and cashing checks. They hire communications staff that can’t communicate. They waste money we dearly need, and so it seems easier to take that money away. I’m not without bitterness. I’m sick of teachers and students bearing the brunt, year after year, of bad decisions made by unimaginative and uncourageous leaders. I’m sick of teachers being ignored, then being blamed when things don’t work. We won’t do better with less money, and we need a lot more than a little bit. Schools can do what we want them to do, but we need to fund them like we believe in them. So I’m not interested in anyone calling for an end to LIFO who isn’t also calling for an end to teacher cuts. I’m not without bitterness, but also not without hope. Within a day of me posting one sentence online about losing my job, I had about 10 openings recommended to me. I’m going to release this book thing, this whole chunk of my heart I’ve been working on for the last two years, and then I’ll really focus on where that job may be. A lot of the time, that’s enough. I’ll have work, and it’s silly to complain too much when that’s the case. Sometimes, though, it just kills me that I’ll have to leave this building again. It just kills me what all the people leaving is going to do to this building again. I’ll almost surely be in a new classroom next year with brand new faces in front of me. I will love them after two weeks, and they will start to like me after three months. By six months, with any luck, I’ll gain the sort of trust from them I will need to teach the hardest things, and will have built the sorts of relationships among the adults and students to start doing some real work, and I will start to hope, again, that I get to come back next year.
An original version of this post appeared on Mr Rad's Neighborhood as Last In, First Out.
Photo courtesy of City Pages.
Tom Rademacher
Tom Rademacher (Mr. Rad to his students) is an English teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2014 he was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He teaches writing and writes about teaching on his blog. His book, published by University of Minnesota Press, is called "IT WON’T BE EASY: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching."

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