How to get laid off gracefully

27 May

After legally acknowledging on Friday that my one year contract was no lie, I gave some thought to my future in teaching.

It’s not impossible to have a teaching  job next year. If someone from my school leaves over the summer, and no one else with three or more years of seniority in the sixth-largest-district-in-the-country needs an English position, my principal ensures me I’ll be the first person he calls.

Or I can play the waiting game all summer and cross my fingers there’s movement elsewhere in the county. And start over again at a new school, location and school philosophy to-be-determined.

I might change my mind on this later, but right now I’m kind of over these games. If the system can’t keep a dedicated, experienced, and pro-kid teacher like me, I’m not sure I want to join this dance.

And since all of the above mentioned scenarios are far too hypothetical for my comfort, I decided to celebrate my pink slip instead.

Here’s how I much I don’t follow rules.

Conventional Wisdom: Update your resume and mail out job applications.

Kara Wisdom: Laid off? Get laid.

Literally: If you’re happily married or partnered like me, it’s less morally compromising.

Figuratively: Give in to your pleasure-seeker for the weekend. Sure you’re about to lose an income, but not for another month. Tell frugality he’s boring, and roll like you’re employed.

I started with afternoon beers with a colleague. A few hours later, my husband and I ate four-course fondue. I had two glasses of wine.  The next night we went out to the movies:  Bridesmaids is exactly the kind of ridiculous I needed.

The movie (complete with overpriced popcorn and soda) came after we went shopping. I bought only one blouse that is appropriate for school. Everything else was more fit for the beach or a nightclub. Practical? Who?

Hold your judgment/jealousy, we shopped the clearance racks at TJ Maxx. We went there so Aaron could buy jungle pants for Ecuador (where he’ll be next week collecting Amazonian termites). Rebels.

Conventional Wisdom: Fight for your rights!

Kara Wisdom: Fight for your soul.

Some people are flashy. Some people get what they want because they yell about it if they don’t. They kick and scream in a public forum until someone greases their squeaky wheel. After watching our legislature and district slash and burn school budgets to create what our governor now calls a “jobs budget,” I thought I might be loud too. YOU CUT MY JOB! I thought I might protest this hypocrisy publicly, and that it would make me feel better. Now that it’s happened, I don’t have any fight in me.

Teaching is so much more than a job. If it were just a job, I’d be willing to yell. I’d be willing to shout about how “you can’t do this to me!” Truth is they can. And they did. And that’s because our decision makers see what I do as “just a job.”

Teaching is a calling. It’s something you feel led to do, not because it’s easy, but because you’re willing to take on its ever-unfolding challenges because you want to help kids. There are teachers who treat it like it’s just a job, but I doubt many started out that way: the system slowly worked on them like that drop of water on a rock that wears it down over centuries. All of a sudden they don’t even recognize that person who once felt called to teach. They stop seeing solutions and only use a megaphone to amplify the problems, and so the system rolls on like a ball of lint picking up more and more dysfunction along the way.

I told myself a long time ago that if I reached a point where I felt like I couldn’t best serve my students–to challenge them and sharpen their skills for the future–then I would leave the profession. It took working in a giant district that praised my teaching then laid me off to get there.

So instead of choosing to fight, I choose to write. I have ten years of insight into public education, and while I’m an optimist, I believe our kids deserve better than they’re getting. And so do their teachers.

I have to thank Penelope Trunk for this beautiful insight that couldn’t have been more timely:

“On the farm, you eat whatever is in season until it is gone. You get sick of it before it’s gone, but you try to remember that as soon as it’s gone, you’ll miss it.”

Even though right now I’m very “over it,” I know I’ll miss teaching. That knowledge kept me going all these years. Even if I leave the profession officially, I’ll always be a teacher. It’s my nature. It’s my calling.


4 Responses to “How to get laid off gracefully”

  1. Amanda May 27, 2011 at 2:09 am #

    I love that bit of wisdom about missing things once they’re gone. It’s so simple and eloquent — and true. Just when I begin to feel sick of something, I do often try to remind myself how much I know I would miss it if it were no longer part of my life. But, it’s like you said — you will always be a teacher, in our out of a classroom.

  2. Catherine May 27, 2011 at 2:28 am #

    You’re going to be amazing at whatever you pursue. Amazing. I for one am super excited about your new writing venture. Can’t wait to see what the future has in store for you!

    (PS Bridesmaids is now one of my favorite movies.)

    • Debbie May 27, 2011 at 3:52 am #

      Kara, Thank you for your writing. You certaintly summed up in a beautiful way the dissapointing state of the education system, the questionable goverment decisions.
      It is especially frustrating for people who are more than qualified and have a passion for what they do to not be able to have any job security or hope for future employment. The students also deserve better as you said. You have been on all sides of it now, and your right, you can go in loving what you do but sometimes there is that burn out factor which seems to happen more these days when you don’t see a way through the problems. People need to understand why someone chooses to do this job. All I know is my eyes welled up when I saw a student of mine belt out a beautiful old song (one of my favorites) at the choral concert tonight. I’ve never heard her sing. Its been a challenging two years having her, listening to her complain about all her classes, struggle with grades and not have a desire to learn.I wanted to one time see her passionate about something, just once. I saw it tonight, and I was so proud of her. I can’t wait to tell her tomorrow in class how impressed I was. She seemed happy and confident and the crowd loved her. I’m am thankful she had that experience and I was there to see it. We want the best for them, they don’t always know it, they certaintly don’t see it when you are after them to get their work done. Hopefully down the road some of them will realize and people in general will have a better understanding why we do this job.


  1. Mad Pen: a blog year in review « GOING SOFLO - June 24, 2011

    […] 2011: Get laid off from job, then can’t stop writing about it;  Aaron leaves the country to fulfill a childhood dream; I try to do my best despite challenging […]

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