We graduate from college, full of enthusiasm and ideas. Most of us were inspired by one or more teachers in our youth, and we want to share that enthusiasm, our love of learning or love of our subject matter. We all care about students and education and really want to make a difference.
In the beginning, we willingly accept the extra assignments, even ask for them. We run the school paper, the yearbook, the clubs. Many of us volunteer to coach athletics. While we may get a small stipend, it amounts to very little when we add up the extra hours — but we don't mind because we are making a difference, we are working with children. It is what we love.
Over the years, we may teach many different curriculums, often at the same time. We change grade levels, curriculum is revised or changed, texts are changed. All of this means a great deal of preparation, but we tell ourselves: Although this is hard work now, soon we will be able to master the content and relax a bit. But the hours add up, and because we care about our students and because we have made a commitment to give them our best —it's the American work ethic, after all — we keep on redoing, reorganizing, re-creating.
After decades of working like this, we arrive at the remaining few years of our career. "Finally," we tell ourselves. "I know this school, I know the procedures, I know the parents and students, I know my curriculum. I plan to continue teaching the same thing for the next couple of years and maybe I can relax a bit. I will have dinner out during the week, go to the movies, maybe read a book. I won't have to spend my evenings with that endless lesson planning and grading because all my planning needs is a bit of tweaking."
As a Baltimore County teacher, I have been given quite an unexpected surprise this year, one that doesn't fit with my image of the American dream. You know, the idea that if you work hard, you will be rewarded? The notion that there will be a payoff at the end for all the hard work in the beginning?
Last month, county schools Superintendent Joe Hairston ordered every secondary school in Baltimore County to reduce staff by up to 20 percent. The staff who have been "surplussed" have not lost their jobs; the jobs, they are told, are just elsewhere.
Where, you ask? When I went to the job fair for "excessed" teachers held at the end of April, table after table of school representatives said they had no openings. I began to wonder where we all were supposed to go.
The news stories that I have watched have not explained how these cuts are being made, so I would like to address that. In business, one might expect that the newest, least experienced workers would be the ones to move to another factory. In Baltimore County's situation, the opposite is happening. The new teachers, those who are not yet tenured, and the unsatisfactory teachers are being retained by the schools. It is the experienced, high-performing staff members who have been asked to leave. So the teachers who have worked hard and done their jobs satisfactorily are being "rewarded" by being asked to go to another school, somewhere in Baltimore County.
So I come to the end of this school year — which is always a time of reflection and usually a time of satisfaction and pride at the accomplishments of my students — but my satisfaction has been replaced by uneasiness. I can expect this feeling to continue throughout most of the summer, since final staffing decisions are not expected to be made until August.
Where will I be sent? Will I be teaching the same grade level? The same curriculum? Will I fit with the new school, staff and community? Will my new job be a reasonable driving distance? Baltimore is a large county.
And as I wonder about all this, I say thank you to Mr. Hairston and county administrative staff for showing this teacher the definition of the American Dream for teachers in Baltimore County.
Cheryl Lambert is an English teacher in Baltimore County. Her email is email@example.com.