Friday, March 12, 2010

Day One

As you can read in the description of this blog, I have started this to raise awareness of the awful circumstances surrounding public education.  Teachers around the country are being laid off in ridiculously large numbers.  I am writing this specifically from my own experience as an art teacher in school district U-46 in Illinois. Twenty three art teachers are being pink slipped next week, myself included.  Around forty teachers at Elgin High School are being laid off.  These numbers are stark across the entire district.  Next year's $1.3 billion dollar cuts to education in the State of Illinois will result in the lay offs of 13,000 teachers.  The situation is grim, it is devastating, it is unfair, and frankly, it stinks.  This will have monumental long term detrimental effects to students across the state, and this country.

I invite anyone who reads this blog and would like to submit a personal story of how they are affected by this crisis to send me an email of their experience.  Stories can be written by anybody--teachers, students, parents, administrators, or anyone else who has a stake in this (which is everyone!!!).  The more we can put a personal face on this issue, the more the public can become aware of what is going on.

My disclaimer is that I am not a trained writer.  I'll write from the heart, but there may be the occasional grammar mistake.  Things on this blog will appear that are opinions.  If there are largely disputed facts, I will remove posts or info--or try to link to the source.

Now for my story.  I came to Elgin High School four years ago.  I was hired as a photography teacher despite having no actual photography teaching experience.  (My teaching certificate is K-12 art, which includes specialized classes.)  My boss at the time said she hired me because after my interview, she felt like I could teach anything--a moment of pride in my career, for sure.  I took a photo class at College of DuPage to brush up on the photo skills I had from undergrad.  After my first year, I had a real sense of starting something great.

The next year I developed a new digital curriculum for the entry level class.  I began teaching digital photography and Photoshop skills.  Real world things that could help spark interest in photography or graphic design careers, or simply grow into a life long hobby.  I began to have a real sense of ownership of this class--it was my baby.  I grew it, I developed it, and I have adapted it and changed it each year to make it better.

This year my students have started blogging.  Each one of their completed artworks end up online in a digital blog/portfolio.  I love that my students have the opportunity to learn these 21st century skills in my class.  After surveying my last semester classes, over 40% said that they were likely to blog in the future.  You can visit it here: EHS Art & Photography.  I also use the website Edmodo to post bell ringer activities for my students.  I usually have them comment on something like National Geographic's photo of the day.

Today actually I posted this link: Nat Geo POD  Ashley N. wrote "This image is powerful because it's telling a story. Her shirt is torn, and way too small for her. Also, she only has one earring. All of this shows that she's very poor. Her facial expression shows that she's very sad & hopeful for a better future. You can see in the blurred background that her house has as little as a mat to sleep on. The photographer uses her skin color to sort of blend in with the background. The colors are faded. I honestly think i wouldn't have done anything different when taking this photo."  

Awesome.  She is looking at, and thinking about, a photograph.  She is using deeper level thinking.  I am happy to be her teacher.

Also today I met with my principal.  In this meeting he told me that he would help me out when it comes to finding a job.  I believe he will.  I think he might be having a worse day than me--he has had to have this same meeting with forty teachers.  In my district, because of what the State of Illinois owes us, teachers are being laid off in record numbers.  Art instruction at the elementary level has been reduced to thirty minutes per week.  This resulted in the loss of 20 teachers.  We also lost 2.5 high school positions because students in high school are required to take a study hall next year thereby reducing enrollment in electives.

Somebody with seniority over me will possibly be involuntarily transferred into my position.  I do not disparage the person that ends up in my position--I certainly would take it rather than not work.  Ultimately though, it just stinks.  It is unfair to all students--those at the elementary level losing their teachers, and those at the high school level who will have new teachers replacing the ones who they were looking forward to having next year.

Please pass information of this blog on to anybody and everybody that is affected and especially those who would be willing to share a story.  Thank you.


  1. Tom

    I caught your link on DPC. Unfortunately you are experiencing the downside of the sucess/power and the rigidity of the public school teachers unions in many places.

    States and local communities have budget shortfalls (unlike the feds they cant print money), and have to cut somewhere as tax revenues (sales and income) are down.

    We could argue all day about whether education should be cut less or more vs. some other spending area, but the reality is, when you need to significantly cut a budget, large expenditures need to get looked at and education is one of the largest.

    The union system makes it impossible to do this without layoffs. Unlike the private sector, you cant freeze wages, let alone cut them. You cant cut benefits. In fact, I would bet that you and your colleagues all have cost of living raises built in for next year and many have step increases as well. Since salaries and benefits comprise the lions share of cost in education, there is no other place to look but layoffs.

    Unfortunately, its the younger/newer employee that gets cut but thats the union system whcih almost all public educators fiercely defend. Nothing in public education is done on merit. Something that rarely benefits your customers - the students.

    Mike Ross

  2. I student taught in in spring 2008 and had a job as a K-6 Computer lab instructor in 2008-2009 school year. I had a fantastic year, but budget cuts forced the district to close a school and restructure the way specials were handled, so being the newest I was out.

    Things are terrible here in the Flint, MI area. I always wanted to teach, but I allowed my parents to talk me out of it when I was 20 years ago when I was 18. Because of the tech skills I bring to the table I felt I would fine as long as the economy didn't crash and GM stayed afloat. Sadly, The odds are against there being a teaching career for me so I'm looking at moving back to the private sector.

    I'm really grateful for the year I had, It was one of the happiest in my adult life.

  3. I have taught with Tom over the last four years, and with the other Photo teacher, Jill, as well. I'm not just saying this because I share an office with them, but because it's true. I have been a teacher for the last 19 years in a district that seems to hold teachers accountable but not it's book keepers. I have built up three different departments just to see each of them destroyed by poor book keeping, if not just on the district level, then on the state and national. This hit is going to be the hardest to take. Both Tom & Jill have taken a struggling program and created something that is epic, all within an ever shrinking budget. This years numbers ran 180 dollars for roughly 150 students. Try making 180 dollars last over a nine month school year for that many students, or even buying lunch for yourself with that budget over nine months and you can understand how hard these two have worked. I can honestly say that the years in this job have left me bitter, not with the students or believing in what I am teaching, but with how the machine runs. Having these two around with desire to take on the odds, try new things and drive the student to be better students has forced me to step up to their level and has made me a better teacher. Though both are younger than myself, they have taught me more about being a teacher than any master class I have ever taken. I fear for the future of our program without them. I fear for what the students will be missing, and I fear for myself.
    Peace & Luck. Mr. V.

  4. We are all grieving for the teachers, the students, for Elgin High School. I think those of us who are remaining are experiencing survivor's guilt and fear for what we're in for as time goes on. I know I'm questioning whether it's even right to stay somewhere that makes decisions like these. The problem is, what school isn't making decisions like these right now? The climate is scary.
    Tom, I have followed the innovations you have made with your students: the postings, the digital guidance, we have seen interest rising in Photo. Students talk about your class; they enjoy it. They know that you will help them out whenever you can, and they have counted on you because they felt you understood their stories. I have had many students choose to drop academics in favor of staying in the Photo program for these reasons.
    I guess my points are: I'm sad and scared for all of us; you've done a great job so far at EHS, and I am hoping with everything I've got that you will continue that next year (Jill, too).
    Way to go creating this blog. I'll be reading.
    Heather Spear

  5. I would like to correct a previous statement made by in a comment from March 13. The comment read:

    The union system makes it impossible to do this without layoffs. Unlike the private sector, you cant freeze wages, let alone cut them. You cant cut benefits. In fact, I would bet that you and your colleagues all have cost of living raises built in for next year and many have step increases as well. Since salaries and benefits comprise the lions share of cost in education, there is no other place to look but layoffs.

    The problem with this comment is that it doesn't completely understand the situation U-46, like many districts is in. The teacher contract is up for negotiation this year. Therefore, there is no cost of living increase for next year, there is no guarantee of a salary increase, there is no guarantee that benefits won't be cut.

    Teacher pay can be frozen, teacher pay can be reduced(though it is admittedly difficult to do), and teachers are evaluated on a merit system. It is difficult to get the "bad" teachers out of the system, but there is a series of checks and balances to protect the good teachers and possibly eliminate the bad. This is not to say it is an easy process to remove bad teachers, but it is erroneous to say that it cannot or will not be done.

    As for the situation that is faced by U-46 and districts all over the state and country, we face a grave situation that is only further degraded by the economic situation in the country.

    If only people would have faith in the educational process, and in the educators, to such an extent that they would figure out how to fund education first and fund their own bank accounts second. Without an education for the current generation, who is going to be able to fill the jobs that we are so desperately trying to create in this country?

  6. I have a junior that attends a high school in U-46 who is considering teaching as a career choice. A week ago I was proud she had interests in such a great career, now, I am not sure. Any opinions are greatly appreciated.

  7. The school board sees this as a business. If they could, they would cut from the top, the most experienced and expensive teachers. The school board does not CARE what your child is interested in. The school board does not CARE about your class size. The only care that they do not over spend. If there was no union, if there was no tenure for teachers, teaching would become a 10 year career, because regardless of how many awards you win for teaching, no matter how caring you are as a teacher, no matter how your students progress they would FIRE you and hire new cheaper, younger teachers. Teaching is my job, it is what I do, it is who I am. If I had to do it all over again I would still be a teacher, in ILLINOIS

  8. Perhaps a state tax increase is not the answer. Legislators will waste it as they have in the past. Too many social services are given away to illegals and others that scam the system. Laws and enforcement of laws should change before more money is put into the pot. Revision is necessary!

  9. The housing crisis has turned out to be the major issue of the day because it effects so many other things including tax revenues for schools. I would encourage riffed teachers to expand your job search to include other states and perhaps other countries. The bottom line for the majority of us is to earn a wage that will provide the resources for our families.


  10. I agree that there needs to be reform in teaching and especially in how education is funded. In any system there is going to be waste and trust me, waste has been wittled down in U-46. It is hard right now that so many people bemoan me , a teacher for trying to make a living wage. Just because I am a government employee, I am not entitled to a living. I am in my 8th year of teaching and make under 60,000. I was just able to afford to buy a modest house last year. I work harder then any job that I have ever had. I came to teaching as a second career. I used to work for a not for profit and I made more there then I do in teaching. I love my job and there is a ton that I do ( and feel that I should do) that I am never compensated for. Even on breaks, I plan lessons, take classes which are required to keep up my certification or work in my classroom. My job doesn't end when I leave my building. All teachers know that there is always something that needs to be done. I am sad that there is an economic crisis and because of it, I try to make every dollar and hour spent more worthwhile. Does the public really want people to only go into teaching for a couple of years and then to move on to something else? That is what I have felt a lot lately.

  11. This previous post says it all:

    "Perhaps a state tax increase is not the answer. Legislators will waste it as they have in the past. Too many social services are given away to illegals and others that scam the system. Laws and enforcement of laws should change before more money is put into the pot. Revision is necessary!"

  12. Reply to come about illigal immigrants March 18, 2010 at 1:58 pm:
    First, I want to say that I was one of 14 teachers that lost the job in our elementary school.
    Second, I hope people take the time to realize and think about their commentaries. We are a country made of different nationalities. We serve students of different nationalities. Students, parents, and the entire U.S will read your comments and we have to be more respectful.
    Third, before we talk about illegal immigrants(Chinesse, Polish, Irish, British, South Americans, Central Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans) lets think about how much they contribute to this country, too.
    They pay taxes and not claim their refunds because of their status. Have you asked yourself, where does that money go? Goverment gets to keep the money. Maybe goverment should give that uncollected revenue to the schools. They also do the work that nobody else want to do for a minimun wage.
    Lets use this blog to support each others that no longer have a job and lets stop using it to politize immigrations issues or other unrelated issues besides sharing your story of being lay off.
    I no longer have a job and I hope the students that I leave behind will always rememeber me and the other 13 memebers of our school. My heart is with my students and the education they will not recieved because of lay offs.

  13. I currently teach 6th grade in U-46 and I too was laid off this week. I am also 5 months pregnant. This is a bad time for all of us. These 13,000+ unemployed teachers will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  14. I am one year from retirement. Who would hire me given that bit of information? My life and my career are one....unfortunately. It has been a good life. I've enjoyed my students and parents. It's all gone now. Sorry to sound so down but I have very few choices left. I will miss this life/career. Thanks for reading this.

  15. Please stop with the, "I think those of us who are remaining are experiencing survivor's guilt and fear for what we're in for as time goes on." Pure BS! Let me tell you its more like "Phew, they aren't cutting me!" and "Aw, does that mean we wont have our library session next year?"
    I am a library para educator. I have also been laid off! The only librarian in my entire elementary school. I read to students all day long. These are students who never get read to at home, dont have books at home and have no one willing to take them to the public library. I find books for teachers, often last mintue in-a-panic teachers who need a quick book or cant find a particular book. I network with other district librarians to get that book for the teachers so they can spend there time concentrating on their students needs.
    I think now, because we have been drastically cut, the district will see the difference especially when the MAP, ISAT etc. reading scores begin to drop.
    On a personal note - I am a cancer survivor, a widow and a mother who is still supporting 2 out of 3 children. I have a mortgage and a million other bills to pay,like everyone else.
    I am far from 25 years old have a BA in art and know it will be more than difficult to grab ANY job out there. If I cannot find a job (which I am sure wont pay more than minimun wage). How will I pay my bills, how will I go to my oncologist without having the money to pay, how will I pay for my medications which I need to keep me alive, how will I support my children?

  16. Teaching is a wonderful and noble profession, but I cannot for the life of me understand why young person today would go into this profession. Teachers are treated like garbage, second class citizens, and they get blamed for virtually for everything. Teachers are dumped on by administrators, administrators dumped on by districts, etc. I am convinced that there is stealing, corruption, and kick-backs somewhere in virtually every school system in this country. The Chicago Public Schools are probably the worst. To my knowledge, teachers never took an oath of poverty, but the public at large thinks we're overpaid and too demanding. The problem is with the mentality of the United States. We place very little priority on the importance of education. Art and Music are considered "frills", and of course they are not. They are a vital part of the curriculum. My sympathies to all of you who have posted here. I retired in 2006, and while I regret not being in front of my students and giving them what I have to give, I am at the same time deeply concerned about those who have followed me into the profession. This is a national disgrace. I hope any aspiring teacher changes their minds and opts to abjure any ambitions about public school teaching. We ALL have a right to be very, very bitter about this whole situation.

  17. What are you willing to do? How far are you willing to go? I was told it wasn't personal and not to take it that way. Obviously, it is personal. It has affected every aspect of my waking life. Nothing is the same. Nothing! And where's the Caped Crusader of Education when you need him? He's writing touching messages from the superintendent's office who does not even open his own email himself for fear he might have to feel someone's pain. His secretary or better still, Spin Doctor Tony opens it and then forwards it if it merits the Mighty One's attention. The motto should read, "Dr. T. Did This to Me." It is personal, Dr. T. We now have the distinction of being the number 1 distict in the State of Illinois in teacher layoffs, surpassing that fine district you called home or better known as CPS. Congratulations Dr. T., you sure know how to do it right. Mr. Duncan is awaiting your presence in Washington. By the way, how is it you can pay your new assistant superintendent $197,000? You must sleep like a baby thinking of all those dollars you saved the district taxpayers. Kinda gives you a warm feeling all over. Don't cry for us Dr. T. If you respected us, you would do more than refer us to our EAP. You could come and eat lunch with us like you do the parents and other stakeholders to hear their stories and allow them to ask questions. But that is not you. You'd have to have a heart and real feelings. Your heart is stuck in your wallet. I will not miss the dirty deals behind closed doors, the circling of the vultures around their wounded prey, and most of all, I'll miss that smiling face of yours at every photo op in the newspapers. Give us a reason to smile, Dr. T.

    Your Ever-Faithful Servant

  18. What Now?

    I feel like I leave one sinking ship after another. I used to be a commercial photographer but when business changed and dried up I went into teaching. Now there is no security in teaching. Teaching has become not cutting to the bone, but cutting the bone itself. They call them cuts but they’re really more like amputations.

    I got my lay-off notice last month. I have been teaching at this school for 7 years now and considered a “Tenured” teacher. Keeping this all in perspective I am one of 20,000 teacher (in California) who have gotten lay off notices this year. I have not gotten lay off notices the last two years and felt like I finally “owned” the job… until now… until the rug was pulled out from under me.

    There’s further irony to the situation. WASC is coming for a visit this fall. If you can believe it, I’m on the subcommittee for “Climate and Culture”. Having recently received a lay-off notice you could imagine my state of mind regarding school climate and culture. At the last WASAC subcommittee meeting we were visited by the led teacher at the school for the upcoming WASC visit. In the course of conversation she said the minutes of another subcommittee were very negative and had hoped that the WASC personnel would not see those meeting minutes. I said she would have heard more of the same if she had come by our meeting 20 minutes earlier. Moving on, she said we should discuss long term goals and objectives, then in the next breath told us she was retiring at the end of this current school year (which means we’ll have a new led teacher for WASC next year). So much for long term goals and objectives. So much for continuity. The irony of the situation was not lost on anyone.

    Kids are upset (especially those going into advanced photography. I make no secret of the fact I’m being laid-off. Why should I?

    So much about the current state of affairs in public education in general.

  19. Everything is going according to plan. Even the elementary students can recite Dr. T's doctrine. The teachers weren't fired, they were RIF'd. Thanks Dr. T. for another weekly Superintendent's Message that says so much about you. After all, it IS about you, isn't it? How will we pay COBRA? Maybe you'd be willing to give up that bonus you took. Oh that's right, you told the media you would refuse the salary increase. What you didn't tell them was that you took the bonus. But then again, that wouldn't boost your ratings in the eyes of the community so you said nothing. See you in Washington, Dr. T, playing hoops with Arnie and Barack, looking back at all of us with your smiling face. Abandon ship...abandon ship!

  20. Too much politics. Too much wasted money. Adding more debt to the system will only create more debt. It will not solve the problems of education because weak and ineffective administrators and poor teachers are protected.
    We can't fix education until the rules change.

  21. Bartlett, Wayne and Carol Stream pay a huge amount of taxes to U-46, but the money is going to educate children who don't belong in this country in the first place. Services for our children are cut left and right, and more and more is going towards educating children who will never have a legal right to work here. Stop hiring illegals. Stop renting apartments to them. Don't do business with companies who hire them.