Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Power To The Pink Slipped!

Pink conjures up such happy memories for me.  As a little girl everything had to be pink; pink clothes, pink bedroom, pink My Little Ponies, and pink hearts on everything!  Not much has changed.  Even now, I choose pink for my toes, pink salmon to eat, pink bubble gum to smack loudly, and everywhere you turn in my classroom you see pink!  All this being considered, I find it quite unfortunate that lay off notices, which I receive year after year, are called “pink slips.” Why not Puke Green Slips?  Or Black Slips?  Glow In The Dark Slips?  I guess the color is irrelevant and the bottom line remains the same, year after year; no matter the color, pink slips carry the same upsetting news...You’re laid off!   Even to this day, despite years of pink slip news, the little girl, all dressed in frilly pink that exists deep within my soul, is still very upset upon receiving a pink slip.  Was it me?  Did I do something wrong?  I tried my hardest.  Am I good enough?  Why do the others get to stay and I have to go?  Like being the last picked for teams at recess or rushing to the cafeteria door only to find you got chorus yet AGAIN in the school play.  The news never gets easier to take.  
Whether or not you have been pink slipped, I am sure the pink slip process has touched your life in some way.  Maybe you know a colleague who has gone through the process or will go through the process this year; if you are a parent, maybe your child’s teacher received a pink slip, or maybe it touched a teacher friend you know, or maybe you received a lay off notice.  Regardless, we are all saddened, confused, frustrated, scared, disheartened...the list of words to define this process goes on and on.  My hope is that this blog post causes the word to spread.  What words?  Well, words from a teacher that has been through the process multiple times, words from a teacher who considered leaving the profession, words from a teacher who could have taught next door to you, words from a teacher who decided to stick it out and ride the pink slip wave, words from a teacher who did not succumb to this horrible process, but instead has survived to be an even better, more dedicated colleague and professional.  My words are about hope, solidarity, resilience, courage, and determination.  Spread the word.
Let’s start with some background.  RIF (Reduction in Force) notices, Pink Slips, are always distributed on March 15th in California, according to Ed Code.  This week begins the emotional roller coaster.   “Temporary” teachers may receive a letter explaining that their contract has ended.  Those teachers who were hired as “Probationary” or even tenured teachers will receive RIF notices.    Welcome to the Ides of March!  I have ridden the RIF emotional roller coaster for multiple years, and I know with certainty that this year will be like other years.  Injustice,  emotion, confusion, disillusionment, back stabbing, panic, and a general feeling of anxiety and disappointment is the aftermath of the RIF process.  Teachers, whose moral has been fractured, remain professional and dedicated to their students for THREE long months!  School ends.  Packing boxes arrive. The classroom is packed up; colleagues come by and give goodbye hugs; the principal writes a letter of recommendation.  The job hunt begins.  This past year I secured a new job, grade level, and district a week before school started.  I was lucky.
The RIF process turns my world upside down, but I am comforted by some important lessons I have learned the hard way.  I NO longer: 
*Point fingers
*Take the process personally    
*Define myself as a teacher who can only teach one grade level       
*Define myself by a particular district    
*Think a stigma is associated with being RIF’d
*Expect to understand the process or get a sense that fairness is in the process
*Expect anyone to give me a pity party, comfort me, and miss me when I am gone
*Try to control the situation
Instead I take solace in the following thoughts:
*I went into this profession not because I thought it would be easy or because, contrary to popular belief, teachers get summers off, but I became a teacher to make a positive impact on students.  
*The educational SYSTEM is BROKEN, but I am not!
*I CAN teach any grade, and these experiences will make me a more qualified teacher!  
*Any district will provide opportunities for me.
*No matter where I teach, I will meet fellow educators who inspire me and become new friends.  
*I can update my resume with an additional grade taught and another district. 
*I have my teaching blog to follow me wherever I go!
*Teachers, both past and present, have gone through this process and have stories and wisdom to share.
*I am a highly qualified educator.  A pink slip will never take away my credential or masters in educational administration.  
*The large collection of cards I have saved over the years from parents, students, and colleagues paint a picture of the true educator that I am.
In the past, I told everyone and anyone about the injustices I had seen or experienced.  I thought I was the only one who truly knew the pain of pink slips and resented those who I THOUGHT, had never seen the hardships I had faced.  I was easily riled, and I ranted about topics such as tenure, merit pay, and the general state of education.  The lens I looked through was not a rosy shade of pink, but instead a hazy, harsh shade of red resentment and anger.  My attitude was completely unproductive and slowly ate away at me.  Don’t get me wrong, I would love to bring Barbara Walters, Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey, and Matt Lauer together as a power team to do a hard hitting journalism expose on the underbelly of education and dig up all the dirt and shock the American public into action!  Barbara would make everyone cry, Oprah would deliver the hard hitting facts and throw in some cars for laid off teachers, Ellen would use witty jokes and dancing to call the American people to action, and Matt Lauer.... well he would be the eye candy of the operation. Phew, see just talking about that gets me all pumped up!       
But what can I do NOW?  I can focus on the present and lead and educate with a quiet grace that speaks rationally and from experience.  Recently, I started a teaching blog.  For several years I hesitated to create a teaching blog because I thought changing grades would interrupt the flow of the blog.  Then it hit me, why wait for my life to start?  With my blog created, I knew no matter the teaching circumstance, I  sprinkle teaching magic everywhere I go.  Yes, in my 30’s I thought I would have job security, but I am slowly coming to terms with job uncertainty, as it is for most of my generation.   What’s new?
This is my world right now. Am I laid off?  Yes.  Are there people in the world going through harder times than me?  Yes. Do I know the names of the employees at the storage unit I use year after year?  Yes.  Do I hoard packing boxes?  Yes.   Do I get frustrated when people assume I am a young, single female with no children, so I will "bounce back"? Yes, extremely!  Do I worry I will have a job to pay rent, put food in my mouth, and survive emotionally? Yes.  Do I have job nightmares that haunt me the last three months of school and all summer?  Yes. Do I tear up when I  think I will move to a new school and not see my students at my previous schools grow through the grade levels?  Yes.  Do I pout, kick, scream, mope, put on a fake smile, push back the tears, and collect myself?  Yes.  Do I, and will I continue to teach my little heart out day in and day out and make a difference in my students lives?  YES!!!!  And that’s what we do!  Old, young, pink slipped, not pink slipped, parent, friend, colleague, mother, daughter, out of the teaching profession, and in it, we stick together; offering support for one another.  Are you with me?  I hope the answer is yes! Power to the pink slipped!!!!!  Raise awareness.  

Last years boxes.

The pink slips may come and go but this is the heart of teaching.  

A beautiful bouquet given to me by my kinder cuties at recess.  Love. 

These are the slips that matter most!

That's me through the eyes of a second grader.  All dressed in pink with my big earrings!

A slight blurry picture of my first stuffed animal class.

I would love your thoughts and comments!


  1. I feel so bad you have to be going through this AGAIN. I'm sending positive thoughts your way.

  2. I teach in New York, and have been cut from the budget or not known if I will have a position every year for the past 6 years. I can not even believe how much I connected with your post! Thank you so much for saying all the things I was thinking, it is nice to know there is someone who truly understands. The system IS broken! It makes me most sad for my students, who don't have their last year's teacher to come visit, and write letters to, and receive a hug from on a bad day. All because I was the last one hired and the state can't balance their budget.

    1. I am so glad my post spoke to you. I certainly feel your pain and please know we are in this together! Thank you for your comment it means the world to connect with fellow teachers who are going through the same heartache.

  3. This was me the last 2 years. I worked for LA Unified and went through that when the district was spending millions on frivolous things that didn't impact student learning in a positive way. Luckily I was hired at a charter school last summer. Hoping things change in education for our kids!


Sheila Chako
Sprinkle Teaching Magic