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Sue Clark

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March 15, 2013
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Pink slip season brings bitter valentines

Pink is a happy color. It speaks of spring, valentines and little baby girls. If you are “in the pink,” you’re doing great.

But pink has an ominous meaning in the spring for teachers. It’s the Ides of March.

Teachers are getting their first round of pink devastation this week. Traditionally March 15 is the first date to find out you may not have a job next year. The term is “reduction in force” or RIF. You may be riffed. No matter how much the administrators and more senior teachers tell you how much they value your lesson planning, your love for your students or paper-grading at the kitchen table each night, the message that hits your heart is that school may well go on without you in the fall. You may be jobless.

You’ll find out more in May, when the second, more fatal round comes up.

But you keep teaching. It’s just that there is a cloud around you.

You may be a choir director for a junior high who got a bunch of knuckleheads to sing Handel. Some of them even told you they liked it but not in front of their friends.

You could have seen a kid doing graffiti on a nearby wall. Since she knew you, she reluctantly let the school counselor move her into your art class. The counselors seem to get lots of pink slips. They tend to get thrown on the bargaining table quickly.

Perhaps you’re a new English teacher, and you are breaking your back getting students to write an organized, thoughtful, example-backed essay. Committing to teaching writing means carrying a load of essays around, either in your giant purse, as I did, or your briefcase. Or piled up in the back of your car. They float cloud-like above our head waiting for you. Your weekends often end Sunday afternoon as you take a look at hundreds of young efforts, automatically picking out the ones stolen from the Internet and planning a lesson around plagiarism as well. You feel the kids are responding to you, and you are getting the hang of this tiring, frustrating wonderful career.

Then you get the pink slip.

It’s not logical. It just hurts. Back in the day, as my students say, we got the pink “valentines” delivered to the local post office. In my Orange County school district, I was a newly tenured English and drama teacher and got a noticed of registered mail. I refused to be a good robot and drive to the post office to pick it up. The principal had to hand it to me.

I got one a few years ago at a local district where my grant to help kids had expired. Although I knew they were going to use my salary to save teachers, it still hurt. Again I would not pick it up. A kind administrator hand-delivered it to me.

I’ve worked as a teacher and counselor for so many decades that I sadly consider pink slips a given. They still make me want to cry.

Even if a teacher scrambles and gets another position, it’s disruptive to him and his family’s life, not to mention the students that loved him.

It means he cleans out his old room and schlepps over to a new school to meet new students and staff. It means he will worry for that entire year that he will receive another valentine.

That pink arrow goes straight to the heart of what we are as teachers. No matter how much love we’re given by the administrative messenger (a terrible task for them as well), we are expendable. It is toxic. I remember it and grieve for it.

Sue Clark lives in Grass Valley.

… (T)he message that hits your heart is that school may well go on without you in the fall. You may be jobless.


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The Union Updated Apr 6, 2013 10:55AM Published Mar 15, 2013 10:42PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.