Laid-off teachers look for their Plan B

Laid-off teachers look for their Plan B

Sarah Gardner:Thousands of teachers are notheading back to school this week. Budget cuts have hit one of this country's largest professions especially hard. In the last three years, more than 300,000 education jobs have disappeared. And that's left a lot of people working on their Plan B. Former technology teacher Chris Bjuland found his at the airport.

Chris Bjuland:I was working as a teacher in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and I got called down to the principal’s office one day between classes, and he said, “Well I’m sorry to do this, but we’ve had some budget problems and so we’re going to have to let you and all the part-time teachers go.”

I did look for other teaching jobs. After about a year of really trying and seeing how frustrating it was, it was time to open up the horizons.

One day while flying out of the San Francisco airport I saw the SFO airport museum. I got on their website and thought, “Well maybe I could do something with them.” So I wrote them a letter and then it just went from there. I got hired on as a part-time person and that’s where I’m at right now.

I’m earning less than I was as a teacher -- a lot less. But you know, you do what you can to survive.

What I miss is working with the kids. I miss seeing that smile on their face when they get something and saying, “Hey, I contributed to this and this person is going to go on and do good things and I helped with that.”

I’m married and so we live on double income, but no, it’s not a job that would allow me to pay all my bills.

One of the nice things about it, which was a little bit different than teaching, is people treat me with respect and they want to know what I know. They value what skills I have and I’m not afraid to go to work. I’m not afraid to say, “Hey, I don’t know how to do something.” Everybody’s there on the same side.

Gardner: Thanks to Amy Scott for producing this piece. For more tales of teachers after teaching

About the author

Chris Bjuland is a former teacher who now works at the museum inside San Francisco International Airport.
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In the last school district I lived in before this one, they did lay offs of teachers. But not one administration person. Classes got bigger, the work load increased, but the admin never changed. the next year more cuts in teachers but not the administration. The third year, the admin showed up claiming there was no place left to cut, that they were unable to cut anything with out class sizes being huge because they would have to lay off more teachers...but they found money to add a fourth assistant superintendent and keep every admin person.

I don't think it is the teaches that are the problem, it is the administration and the total loss of local control.

I find Chris Bjuland's story poignant. The following statement is especially telling:

"One of the nice things about it, which was a little bit different than teaching, is people treat me with respect...."

This pretty much sums things up and tells us one of the major issues at hand today with the profession of teaching: lack of respect. I speak from first hand experience, since I, too, am a recently laid off teacher. Here's my tale (in brief): I am a board certified cardiologist. 20 years post med school in my late forties I decided that the tedium of private practice and the many inherent flaws of our current fee-for-service system rendered my professional life unfulfilling. I had always enjoyed teaching and I decided that this was my calling. I returned to school full time at age 46 for 2 years of training to obtain a teaching certificate. For the following 2 1/2 years I applied for every available job teaching science in my local high schools. I took jobs that seasoned teachers considered insane to accept: .6FTE with 4 preps, leave replacement positions with no security and even an AP class with no institutional support and 14 year old textbooks. I can say first hand that teaching is arduous, taxing, and time consuming. Good teachers spend much out of class time preparing for each lesson. My last position was .4FTE and I put in many more hours than the full time teachers at my high school. My reward at the end of the year: I was "RIF'd." That's a synonym for "fired" and derives from the euphemism "Reduction in Forces" used in our district to (I guess) spare our feelings and also keep families from knowing what is really going on.
In any case, Chris Bjuland's comment re: lack of respect is so apt. While on the one hand colleagues and administrators were happy to mention my advanced degree and credentials while I was employed teaching anatomy/physiology and biology, they were quite glib in handing me a pink slip and saying how sorry they were that cutbacks necessitated them letting me go. I fully recognize that I may not have been the be-all and end-all of science teachers. I was still on the steep slope of the learning curve as it's called. However, if someone who wants badly enough to be a teacher drops a prior career, returns to school for certification, works incredibly hard to acquire skills AND (this is the kicker) EVERYONE AGREES WE NEED COMMITTED AND CAPABLE TEACHERS, then why does this bizarre juxtaposition of events occur? Well, lack of respect for the profession probably has something to do with it. Lack of respect for children in this country and their right to be educated in uncrowded classrooms by knowledgeable, capable and enthusiastic teachers is another.

The other statement Chris makes that really resonated with me was about missing the kids and that smile when they "get something." School just started yesterday. I wasn't there and- you know what- I really miss that too.

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