High School math teacher "let go" - what should she do?
December 2, 2008 12:36 PM   Subscribe

My wife was "let go" from her position as a high school math teacher in California, due to budget cutbacks. What should she do?

There have been talks at her school for a while that they would have to cut a few positions, but I thought she was safe because she had full classes. Apparently not - she was told there were 3 people in her position in the math department, and each were assessed on their abilities and assets. She was chosen. She asked the principal what qualities she was lacking, and he was vague (he has a history of being big on feel-good talk and light on actual details). My wife will complete this semester, and then her 6 classes (algebra and geometry) will be spread amongst other teachers.

There is a possibility she could get another job in the same district, but she currently drives an hour each way to get to this job. She carpools the majority of the time, so she only drives once or twice a week, which made the job realistic. If she gets a job in the same district, it'll still be a pretty long drive, and now it'll probably be alone.

I wanted to question the school's choice to let her go, instead of another teacher in another subject. The school is big on sports and low on academics. The major sports teams have a handful of coaches each, all who teach a few classes on the sides to round out their hours. In my (non-local, non-sports fan) eyes, it seems like the new coach should be cut, because they'll lose only 3 classes, and have other coaches to cover his sports work.

My questions: should she find the real reason(s) she was chosen over others? And if she finds the reasons to be thin, should she request that this decision be re-evaluated? Or should she move on, and look for another school that could be closer to home?
posted by filthy light thief to Work & Money (17 answers total)
Best answer: I can't say if the school was in the wrong in firing her, but my knee-jerk reaction is this: No matter who is fired, someone's going to be unhappy. I don't know your circumstances, but is it possible for her to get a closer job?
posted by LSK at 12:41 PM on December 2, 2008

Best answer: A.) Finding out the "real" reasons she was let go won't change the fact that she is without a job.

B.) If there is a process within the bureaucracy to contest such firings she should pursue that first on the grounds that her firing was not justified to her by the principle nor anyone else. In this respect, finding out the "real" reason is precisely what she shouldn't do as it weakens her claim.

C.) Sounds like a lousy district / school. She may look back a year from now and be glad that she is no longer working there.

Good luck.
posted by wfrgms at 12:47 PM on December 2, 2008

If there is a process within the bureaucracy to contest such firings she should pursue that first on the grounds that her firing was not justified to her by the principle nor anyone else.

If she was in a union they might be able to help with something like this.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:52 PM on December 2, 2008

1. File for unemployment immediately.
2. Find a new job in a new school and new district.

This is sort of like a break up in that you're always going to think it's unfair and that they should have done something else (laid off someone else) but there's really not much you can do about it at this point.

They have made their decision and I am sure they didn't take it lightly. For whatever reason, they are letting her go instead of dealing with their budget problems in another way.
The reasons don't matter, and although you might wonder, asking and fighting about it isn't going to do anything but get her a bad reputation for when she applies to new jobs.
Best to just move on.
posted by rmless at 12:52 PM on December 2, 2008

Best answer: Public school districts, in my experience, have very clear rules about who is going to get laid off, and it's often based on seniority and credentials. She should be able to see this policy. It is possible that the principal inappropriately selected her (i.e., did not follow district policy for layoffs).

Your wife is most likely part of a union. She should talk to her union rep about how to contest this. The school district may also have a process for contesting being laid off. She may be able to get this info from her boss or the central office (the Superintendent's staff).

Oh, and she should sign up for unemployment right away.
posted by zippy at 1:24 PM on December 2, 2008

Union Rep., STAT! Seriously, she needs to contact them. They can spell out her options and make sure the school chose her by the correct criteria.

We will be seeing more of this in California. Stay tuned and good luck!
posted by 6:1 at 2:07 PM on December 2, 2008

California Teachers' Union.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:06 PM on December 2, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments. Additional question: accepting the dismissal, is it critical or useful to get a solid reason for dismissal? I think they needed to pick 1 of 3, and my wife lost out. But for future interviews, could she just say "I was downsized," or will she need to know more details?

I'm worried it'll take too much effort and time to get a straight answer on this. She almost has her teaching credential, and will begin working on her masters soon. Maybe they were worried about keeping her and needing to pay her more once she completed her masters? I've heard that's a straight-forward way to increase your pay as a teacher (be employed, complete masters, and your employer will have to pay you more for your increased level of education).
posted by filthy light thief at 3:36 PM on December 2, 2008

No, for future interviews, "I was laid off in the great economic meltdown of aught-eight" is enough.
posted by zippy at 3:52 PM on December 2, 2008

Substitute locally. In my experience here in NH, we can't get enough high quality subs. It is the perfect opportunity to get to know a school district, get to know the staff and students. Then, once the time comes in April or so for the next school year's open positions to be posted, she will have local references to use to secure one of those positions.

Again in my experience, subs are not paid particularly well so she should be able to collect unemployment without earning over the maximum amount that would damage her unemploment benefits.

All of this of course is adding to the "contact her union rep". I think it is more an issue of hiring date - of course you did say that she "almost" has her certification. Is it possible that her district has a clause in the contract that states noncertified teachers can be dismissed without reason? Just curious because it might be the loophole that allows them to dismiss her (and others in the same situation).
posted by sisflit at 4:15 PM on December 2, 2008

If she does not have an actual clear credential in Math, then I would bet that's why she was let go. "Almost" having a credential is a big problem for her.
Districts have strict guidelines that have been usually worked out with the teachers' union as to who leaves and who stays. It is usually based on seniority, with other duties like dept. chair or coaching weighing in, and type of credentials held. No Child Left Behind also plays into it in terms of credentialing. I doubt her wanting to get a masters was a factor, since many teachers have them.
Downsizing is one way of putting it. People working in public education are well aware of what is going on statewide, so I wouldn't worry too much about knowing the details.
My suggestion would be to make sure she has some solid recommendations from her current administrator(s) and that she leaves her current district on good terms. She should clear her credential asap, if she hasn't already.
She has the option to substitute teach in districts closer to home, which is always a good way to get a feel for different schools and districts, if, in fact, she wants to teach closer to home. If she doesn't have contacts in any of the districts, she should be active in trying to sub by introducing herself to school administrators or at the district HR office. If she wants to sub at a particular school, making a flier with her info and experience is a nice way to get oneself in the door, so to speak. They usually post them in the mail room or put them in teacher's boxes. If she does goes the mail box route, make sure she does the copies herself, there are enough for each teacher, and are on colored paper so they'll stand out. Subs with past teaching experience are much appreciated by teachers. Most schools have preferred sub lists. She wants to get on the list, if she wants to work.
If she doesn't want to sub, she can go on unemployment. That's always an option.
Public education in California is tough right now.
Best of luck to her and cheers to you for being supportive of your wife.
posted by bookshelves at 4:47 PM on December 2, 2008

Best answer: I'm worried it'll take too much effort and time to get a straight answer on this.

If she's a member of the California Teachers Association it shouldn't be any effort at all. That's precisely one of the benefits that members pay dues for, and they're easily the best organization to examine this situation.
posted by Neiltupper at 5:07 PM on December 2, 2008

There are two issues here. That a maths teacher was laid off is an economic issue. If it wasn't for budget cuts, they would have kept her and the other two on. (That said, if they turn around and hire another teacher in two weeks, your wife has definite grounds for complaint!) In future interviews, this is really all that needs to be said. She'll be interviewed by principals, vice-principals, heads of departments, etc - all of these people are well aware of where education stands in the budget priorities of modern democracies, have felt the sharp end of the same stick, and quite probably have in their careers laid off a teacher or two they'd rather have kept, for this exact reason.

That your wife was the maths teacher chosen to be laid off is really a separate issue, and there could be several reasons, which can be broadly divided into demographic (eg, qualification, years of experience, pay rate for masters degree, amount of entitlement to severance pay), professional (eg, teaching manner and style, class discipline, attendance, involvement in extracurricular activity) and personal (eg, voice, appearance, sense of humor, etc; in other words, his liking for her as a person, which should have little to do with the decision, but in practice, does). For all three of these factors, the test is not pass/fail, it's graded on a curve: two pass, one fails. As the story goes, the other two do not need to outrun the bear, they only need to outrun your wife.

From your description of the principal he hardly sounds the confrontational type. If he has a personal problem with your wife--and he may or may not--he doesn't sound willing to bring it up, and pursuing it will create one even if there wasn't one to start with. If he has a professional problem with her, he may be unwilling to bring it up simply because (1) he wants to avoid an argument; (2) he may believe she is unable to change it; (3) he doesn't believe he can convince or persuade her to change it; (4) he fears--and reasonably so--that professional criticism may turn into the subject of litigation. Getting professional criticism would be worth doing, if in fact there's any criticism there at all, but it will tax both sides' interpersonal skills and may be best left until after she gets another job elsewhere. However, the context of a reference is a good start for this conversation.

Chances are it's demographic - the "not quite" qualification, the extra pay for masters, possibly a much smaller severance package than the other two, etc. Taking it personally only helps if one has been unfairly screwed over. As others have said, she should talk to the union, join the union if she isn't already, and put her energy into applying for new jobs. While she's still working is the best time to do this, and if people at the school are willing to help (references, covering a classes for her to go to an interview), that help should be accepted.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:42 PM on December 2, 2008

I think this may well be the reason:

She almost has her teaching credential,
posted by gjc at 6:04 PM on December 2, 2008

Additional question: accepting the dismissal, is it critical or useful to get a solid reason for dismissal?

She could ask for an exit interview with her principal. Seek constructive criticism. Don't burn any bridges. It may be purely based on seniority etc., but it may be a great way for her to achieve "closure".
posted by misterbrandt at 6:20 PM on December 2, 2008

I would agree with the masses here and say that the "almost" credential is the culprit, particularly if she is the only one of the 3 math teachers without a credential. I would hammer that out as soon as possible to prevent this from happening again.

While it is always unfortunate to get laid off, this being a mid-year layoff, she will have a huge jump on available positions for the fall. Maybe to put herself in the best position, she could focus on substitute teaching in districts that are growing the fastest as they may have the largest tax base/state aid available to make a new hire-then she will already know people in the district when it comes time to interview.
posted by mjcon at 7:43 PM on December 2, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the additional comments.

A few things to note - she isn't the only one who was hired without a full credential. I believe both of the other new math teachers are in the same position (not fully credentialed, but on their way). She'll be credentialed at the end of December. She also has an undergrad degree in Math, whereas some teachers who are currently teaching math do not. There are other personal (not social skills) issues at hand that might make both of the remaining teachers preferred as people to retain.

But she's coming to terms with this, and she has a few weeks of classes to teach and grade before her termination takes effect. I'll push her to talk to her union rep to see if she can get more info, but math teachers (especially with solid math backgrounds) aren't too common.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:56 AM on December 3, 2008

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