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You Want To Lay ME Off?

As a teacher, I check in with the blogosphere and major news networks only after 5 p.m., so during the day I get my updates through the rumorsphere. On Wednesday, I heard about Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed raise-cuts from Ms. AlmostRetired. She seemed downcast, and she came to me because I am one of the few young teachers at the school. Her bad news (not receiving the raise) could possibly be good news to me (the revenue saved might save my job). “You might like this, Mr. Arp,” she said. “The raise I thought I was going to get next year might be your paycheck.” She said it with warmth, and I appreciated her thoughtfulness.

Because, you see, I have been Mr. MaybeFired all year. Our teacher’s lounge has been ablaze with budget talks. At our monthly faculty meetings, our principal warns us again and again that our school will be facing serious setbacks and that not all teachers will be coming back next year. All eyes on me, of course.

To the uninitiated, it works like this: In accordance with current union policy, widespread layoffs would be implemented by seniority. The first hired, as they say (again and again), will be the first fired. This leads to some interesting conversations. I remember Ms. AlmostRetired holding her head in her hands at lunch time, crying “Why won’t they buy me out? I’m ready to go! Buy me out!”

“Why should you be laid off?” She asks me. “When I’m dying to get out of here and you want to stay. And you’re cheap!” To an extent, this seems like a fine argument. Young teachers are the cheapest teachers, and there must be quite a few teachers in Ms. AlmostRetired’s position: willing to leave if provided with the means to retire. But I have had difficulty gauging the price of retirement against the cost of a beginning teacher. Besides, I do not find this argument personally compelling. I would not want to keep my job because I am inexpensive.

I would want to keep my job because I know that in order to become a teacher, I need to teach. If there has been one consistent lesson that I have learned in my first two years, it is this: experience makes the teacher. To deny me years of experience and then to ask me to come back to the profession later in life seems to be, simply, a raw deal. Please remember, Powers that Be, that I have no intention of remaining unemployed. I will take the layoff and gain experience in some other field, and it will be a tough sell to discard that experience to return to teaching.

Of course, I am not really thinking of myself, but of the other young, beginning teachers for whom I have been writing my posts over the past few months. My personal mantra (“keep at it, keep at it, keep at it”) does not harmonize with sweeping layoffs. I say this not as a threat but as a basic observation: If young teachers are laid off, they will find other things to do. Teachers who have given two or three vibrant, flawed, energetic, stumbling years to the profession cannot, and must not, be counted on to return when the economy brightens.

There are many good reasons to lay me off before any other teacher in my school, but I need only name one: I am the worst teacher in my school. Regardless of my energy, my enthusiasm and my good will, I cannot fake 20 years of experience. But to take away my chance to become a veteran, and the chance of every other young teacher in the city, is to sell our future in order to save the present moment. It seems to me like an obviously wrong-headed decision, or an obviously wrong-headed policy.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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