The end of the school year can lull you both in good and bad ways. I brave a smile even though I know there is impending doom for my future as a teacher. I mask this for the kids’ sake. Maybe the lull is from the changing weather, the prickly dampness and the lack of central air that contribute to the monotony of each 90-minute classes. These decrepit, ancient buildings in Paterson, New Jersey need to be condemned. There is no proper air circulation—with exceptions of some isolated rooms stationed with window AC units that are as old as the relics in a national museum. Yet, the city is still plagued with additional problems. There are issues of homelessness, drugs, gangs, teenage pregnancy, undiagnosed mental illnesses, gross illiteracy, violence and the list goes on. This time, they are targeting the schools.
Due to budget restrictions, the powers that be have already cut 240 teaching jobs and now, the school classes will be a minimum of 40 students per class. I often wonder if this decision is for the betterment of the school system or to its ultimate detriment? The budget cuts are for what, exactly? The drinking water in the schools is still pregnant with high lead levels. We hunger for newer technology or even more textbooks. Will the extra money from the layoffs go to these issues? Or perhaps other impending issues of Paterson like better healthcare, shelters and community centers? You do the math. I did and I will be unemployed even though I scored as a highly effective teacher. Pink slips are in my future.
Now, all we can do at this juncture is pray. Pray for deliverance. Pray for the weak; pray for the strong and focus on what we can change versus complaining about what we cannot change. It seems to be fruitless to waste our good energy on such pointless discernment; but the reality is I will be jobless at the end of June.
Every morning I write in my gratitude journal and meditate about my goals for the day. I’ve noticed that my lists are becoming less robust. Perhaps, I’m losing my grip on the affirmative and embracing more of the darkness that can slowly drown me. When I slip into that darkness, it becomes harder to resurface. Am I the only educator feeling the wrath of the budget cuts? It is teacher appreciation week, right?
Today is only the 9th of May and the 15th seems like a lifetime away. Not only am I anxious, but now, I am restless, paranoid and mentally deflated with an added dose of insomnia. My usual upbeat demeanor has lost its sparkle. My overzealous steps of joy have been cemented in doom and my everlasting smile has transformed into a frown. The fact that my pink slip is pending makes the mixture of the negative and hopelessness an even heavier burden to carry. I am non tenured and the newest hire at my current school. Enough said. At my age and with 18 years of experience, I was aiming to retire one day since I relocated to Paterson this past school year. I had not desired to be in my mid-forties applying with twenty-year olds for a teaching job. But, what I want doesn’t matter. I have to focus on my reality. This is my reality so I must update my resume and start o’er. Once again.
To every down side, there is an upside. The upside means there is potential and there is a future. Even though this school district will let me go, I know there will be even more who will embrace my skills and passion for teaching. It is only a matter of time before they fulfill their deadlines and I start anew. Storms do pass. I know this, for sure.
Written by Sharon Gray, an English teacher at the Great Falls Academy.