Those 2 Dreaded Words: “Pink Slip”

This year is my second year of teaching.  After my first year I felt like I had finally found what I was placed on this earth to do and that I found what I am truly great at.  And then 6 months into my second year, we were notified that due to budget cuts handed down from Gov. Jerry Brown, all temporary teachers will be getting a pink slip. Noooooooooooo!  I finally found my place and my groove and it could all be taken away in one swift pass of a piece of paper.

Getting a pink slip is the nice way of saying that your services are no longer needed, in other words, “You’re fired!”  Don’t get me wrong,  I understand that it is much more complex than that.  But take the perspective of a first or second year teacher.

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics found that 17% of new teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years.  Every teacher fresh out of the credential program is well aware of this statistic.  It is drilled into us that although teaching is amazingly rewarding, teaching is also very hard.  Parents are tough, kids are tough, admin is tough, testing standards are tough, and the long hours with little pay are tough.

Every year, thousands of teachers in California receive the dreaded pink slip.  I can bet you that this contributes to the amount of great teachers that leave the field due to lack of available jobs. This information is not encouraging to new teachers who are faced with the facts that there’s a good chance they will be interviewing for a job every summer.  Every Spring, they receive a pink slip and have to pack up their classroom, or in a PE teacher’s case, their locker room office, turn in their keys, and hope that their school will hire them back.  But we also have to be realistic in knowing that until you sign your contract for the upcoming school year, your job is not confirmed, which means you need to be interviewing and hoping you can land somewhere.

This year, in San Diego Unified, 137 Elementary PE teachers will be laid off.  This number sickens me.  That means 137 PE teachers will be left with a million questions and no students to teach.  The district continues to stand firm on their belief that students will not be effected by layoffs, but I can’t understand how the district finds this to be true.

Physical Education is no longer a glorified recess time.  We have state and national standards to follow.  There are more and more studies emerging confirming the direct positive correlation of Physical Education and success of students in the classroom.  It is unrealistic to expect a multiple subject teacher to also follow the standards for PE when they have so much pressure to have their students successful on testing.  There needs to be dedicated PE teachers who can help students develop motor skills, communication skills, social skills, and life skills.

And being a PE teacher at a middle or high school can be even worse.  Because we do not technically have a classroom, our class sizes are usually double those of teachers who teach Math, Science, Language Arts, Social Studies, etc.  We have to have immaculate classroom management skills and immense creativity with large class sizes, limited facilities and small budgets for equipment.

So as a PE teacher, the idea of getting a pink slip is scary.  Thoughts go through our head like, “If I am lucky enough to keep my job, will my class sizes grow to difficult to manage numbers?”, “Will I be stepping into a new school, part of an old team, feeling like a first year teacher again?” and many other scary thoughts.

PE is often one of the first subjects to take cuts.  It is important that you are constantly advocating for your program and for the great things you are doing for your students.  Just being a great PE teacher is not enough.  Parents, PTSA, Admin, and the District all need to know what you are doing for your students.  At the end of the day, you cannot know whether or not you will have a job after receiving a pink slip, but you can make yourself valuable to your school and your district.  If you remain in your position at your school, all of your hard work will have paid off and you can continue to make a difference.  If you do lose your job, you will have some amazing skills to take with you on your interviews over the summer.

As of this moment, I am in limbo with many of my peer and colleagues.  I know I will be receiving a pink slip, but I also feel confident in my value to my school and my district.  My best advice to anyone suffering from the same stress as me is to have faith in your skills but to also make sure you are looking out for yourself.  Keep being the amazing teacher you  are every single day, and don’t let getting a pink slip every year discourage you from leaving the profession.  If you went into teaching to be a guiding light to your students, stay true to your purpose and don’t let politics get in the way of helping your kids.  It doesn’t matter which school you are at, it matters that you are in a position to teach your students to be their best selves.