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Bloomberg’s Classless Welcome Back from Break: A Letter

Dear Mr. Mayor,

I just wanted to thank you for the welcome back to school you had waiting for me in the papers (and on GothamSchools) today. I’m assuming, though, that before that, you’d want to know how my vacation was?

Like many teachers, for me last week wasn’t a vacation at all. I spent the week preparing to teach a new unit on revolutions in global history. I have taught this unit before, but the events in the Middle East are far too relevant to ignore, so I spent hours finding just the right video clips and news articles to show my students that people do have power to change their lives and environments. As I finished up yesterday evening, I was more excited to teach today than I had been in a long time, even though the first day back from break is always one of the most challenging.

But you see, here’s the rub: I am not thinking about teaching today anymore. I’m not really thinking much about my students, either. I’m trying to figure out who the five teachers are at my school are who could be laid off. Our first-year history and math teachers are obvious, but I’m not sure who the other three are. We have Spanish, English, and health teachers who are new to our school, but I can’t remember how many years they have in the system. We have a third-year history teacher who is on the border; could he be in danger? Or maybe it’s the fourth-year P.E. teacher who is about to become a first-time father this month? The doubt is all I can focus on right now.

And if that’s all I’m thinking about this morning, I can only imagine what it’s like for the seven of them. I can’t imagine they will be able to focus on their students this morning, either.

You see, Mr. Mayor, I am not writing you to defend seniority rights (even though I do now and have always supported them, even when they could have cost me my job last year). I am not writing you about the new layoff law before the state assembly (even though it is convoluted and ridiculous). I am writing you, Mr. Mayor, to ask you a few questions:

Where is your humanity? Did you really need to release this list on the first day back form vacation? And why did you choose not to include more specific information? Is it because you want seven teachers worried about their jobs at my school rather than only the five who might have to be laid off?

And while we’re at it, why do five people need to be laid off (along with 4,661 other teachers across the city)? I have heard that the city has a multiple-billion dollar surplus; why can’t you use this? Why haven’t you taken measures to increase city revenues, rather than merely cutting costs? I did my taxes this past weekend, and ended up having to write the state a check for $1,200. I happily would have added a couple of hundred dollars to that in order to avoid losing teachers, and I’m no millionaire. While we’re at it, why are you letting their taxes go down right now?

What you did this morning, Mr. Mayor, is crueler than anything I have ever seen a teacher do to her or his students (and I once had a teacher give me a zero on a test I missed for the funeral of one of my best friends, who was also in the teacher’s class). You want me arguing in the teacher’s lounge today about layoffs rather than talking about how we can best serve our students. You want me thinking about events in Albany, rather than thinking about how I can get the 34 students in each of my global history classes to think about the fact that events in Cairo should mean something to them.

Or are you trying to help me, Mr. Mayor? Are you trying to make the streets of downtown Manhattan look like the streets of Cairo or Madison? Because it seem like you want a war, and nothing engages my students more than watching a war. So maybe I do need to thank you; my students might have the opportunity to witness the truly awesome power we the people can wield against those who abuse their power.

Stephen Lazar

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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