Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Laying Off Teachers/Throwing Away Students

Laying Off Teachers/Throwing Away Students
by Julia Stein

February 18, 2009, 9:40 am

Throughout the fall of 2007 and winter of 2008 I've been hearing stories of teachers being laid off in Orange County, Bay Area, Sacramento, Florida, and of small groups of trade unionists fighting to save teachers jobs. I teach at a junior college, and only now this spring have a small number of classes been cut at my junior college for the first time.

Still I wasn't aware of how many teachers were threatened with losing their jobs nationally until I read Nicholas D. Kristoff's editorial "Our Greatest National Shame" last Sunday, Feburary 15 in the New York Times who quotes a University of Washinton study that "the recession would lead to cuts of 574,000 school jobs without a stimulus." In the stimulus package just passed through Congress was $100 billion toward education, so this stimulus will save some of this 574,000 endangered jobs. Probably not all jobs will be saved. How many teachers jobs will be cut in 2008? I have no idea.

I've been teaching as an adjunct in higher education, and have survived layoffs in my job four times. Since I started teaching in 1990, I was just hired in time to face the layoffs in the recession of the early 1990s where the ESL program in a Southcentral Los Angeles junior college I was teaching in was threatened to be totally cut three times. Three times we instructors and students saved the program. I used these experiences to write a series of poems about teaching during cutbacks and layoffs in my last published book of poetry Walker Woman.

After the book was published, I got a better teaching job and sincerely hoped my period of fearing for my job was over. I didn't want the poems to be prophetic of teacher job cuts in the future. No way.

No such luck. In 2003 California had another budget emergency. Santa Monica College, where I now was teaching, had a president in spring 2003 who wanted to cut 400 teachers, staff, and downsize the college 6,000 students. The president also wanted to end the vocational programs like auto repair, tourism, fire safety for future firemen, or criminology for future policemen through which students got job in Santa Monica. The faculty and staff fought for months to save the jobs and save the vocational programs but we lost.

I was one of the lucky ones who kept my job but I had a friends who were laid off. The faculty and staff both had votes of no confidence in the president where we voted 8 to 1 no confidence. After the cutbacks I had discussions with students who said their friends who wanted to take vocational educational classes which had been cut were sitting at home looking for jobs or waiting until they were old enough to get jobs as policemen or firemen.

About a year and a half later our president voluntarily left and we got a much better president. I noticed that with the better president at my college and more amicable relations between faculty and administration we faculty turned our energy to developing new curriculum including a new class on California literature in our English Department--that's where we should be putting our energy. Again, I hoped never to see such layoffs again.

Nowe we face massive national layoffs of teachers. Yes, the federal stimulus package will help but still many teaching jobs have already be lost and more teachers will lose their jobs in 2008. We should have discussions on how to save teaching jobs. Of course. We should talk to our legislators. Of course.

We should remember the 1930s. Alfred Hayes published a wonderful poem in 1934 "In a Coffee Pot" about the young people who had no future at that time:

The bright boys, where are they now?

Fernando ... the school's big brain

He's a bus boy in the eat-quick joint

At seven per week twelve hours a day.

His eyes are filled with my own pain.

His life like mine is thrown away.

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