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Bruno: Why I May Not Keep My Teaching Position

828809613_5691a89319As you may or may not recall, last summer my family moved from the Bay Area to Southern California and I was fortunate enough to find a new job teaching science in a district middle school that I began in August. It turns out, however, that that job may be short-lived.

Last week I received a letter from human resources informing me that I cannot count on having a job for the 2013-2014 school year. Though the details may vary somewhat from district to district, the general reason for this job insecurity will be familiar to many teachers.

As my letter from HR helpfully explains, districts are often unable to predict with certainty exactly how many teaching positions they will have to fill in the following school year. Some teachers may retire or resign, but positions may also be cut for various reasons and in that event teachers with more seniority in the district can have "first pick" of the positions that remain. (My previous tenure in the Oakland Unified School District grants me no job security here.)

Such seniority-based dismissal decisions have their justifications. They certainly provide a relatively objective criterion by which staffing decisions can be made and it is entirely possible that this reduces other sorts of unfair or inefficient bias. Discrimination on the basis of age, gender, and other characteristics are undoubtedly real problems.

Still, the upshot for me is that at least for the time being I am back on the job market with my principal's sympathies. This, in turn, means that even if the district is eventually able to offer me a job for the next school year, I may no longer be available to take it.

Indeed, the uncertainty and convoluted calendars usually associated with school hiring mean that it is entirely possible I will leave the teaching profession altogether. This isn't just a problem for me and I don't think I'm so exceptional that our institutions should be arranged to my convenience. It is, however, a new teacher retention problem for the whole system.

It is conceivable that these problems could be ameliorated even in a system that heavily rewards seniority - say, with higher starting salaries - but I don't sense much urgency on this issue from people on either "side" of the reform debates.

So for now I'm going to start looking for a new job. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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Sorry to hear that, Paul. I know that here in SF, the district has had to issue pink slips in many years -- they are truly forced to do it by law based on the POSSIBLE number of layoffs in a worst-case scenario -- and in some of those years, no layoffs occurred after all (and I think that in other years, few occurred, but far from as many as the worst case would have called for). The issue there, of course, is underfunding.

Best of luck!

Thanks. My current district is almost shockingly financially stable (maybe just in contrast to my time in OUSD), so I don't think funding per se is the issue for me. The more immediate issue in my district seems to be declining enrollment.

The whole thing gives me hives. At my current school, all new teachers are "T", so we are all laid off and hired back each fall.

But I don't see that "first hired/first fired" rule is all that damaging. Yes, new teachers would be kept more if it were gone, but only because they are cheaper. The idea that principals are dreaming of canning 10-20 bad teachers every year is just a non-starter. So the world in which new teachers have it easier is a world in which they are losing their jobs to less experienced but cheaper teachers 10 years later.

You are a male science teacher under 35, so you're always going to be in demand. The problem, of course, is that if you don't get settled in one school soon, you lose money because you don't get credit for all your years worked (or that may already have happened).

If I could make one change, it would be that one. Teachers transferring districts should always get all their seniority on their salary, not just x amount of years.

With that change, the worst case for new teachers is that they switch jobs a lot, but they won't be penalized.

Sorry this is happening to you, but as I've discussed, I have similar issues and I'm 20 years older and way more expensive, so from my perspective, you're in great shape! (kidding)

Just to clarify, both districts I've worked in give salary credit for years teaching outside of the district. They don't give seniority credit, however, when making layoff decisions.

I know, but at a certain point, depending on the district, they will stop giving you salary credit. Some districts give you up to ten years. Some give you five.

So I'm saying that if a teacher just wants to go from school to school, a year or two at a time, he or she will eventually take a salary hit if the moves are between districts.

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