It’s no surprise that times are tough for teachers right now. Budget cuts are being made left and right, and you hear stories in the news all the time about cities laying off mass amounts of teachers. But what about the rural areas? How are teachers doing in the less than newsworthy parts of the country?
Well, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like they’re faring any better. Of course, you probably won’t hear about that in the news. Reporting that a school district has laid of five teachers opposed to hundreds just isn’t as impressive sounding. But it’s still happening, and these teachers, regardless of where they live, are still feeling the pains of being laid off.
I grew up in the Northern Adirondacks in New York State. School districts up there are small, and quite often, K-12 is often contained in one building. Graduating classes average around 30 students. Were talking small schools here, folks, but just because the schools are smaller doesn’t mean that the teachers don’t value their jobs any less. My Alma Mater just went through some budget adjustments and laid off four teachers for the upcoming 2010-2011 school year. Well, technically speaking, they eliminated positions, which I guess sounds nicer than fired teachers. While four might not sound like a lot, when you do the math, about 30% of the teachers in that district no longer have jobs. Now that sounds like a lot. Imagine if a larger school district laid off 30% of their teachers? That would be newsworthy stuff right there.
What are these teacher supposed to do now? In larger, metro areas of the country, it might be easier for recently let-go teachers to find alternative employment, but in rural areas, such as the one I grew up in, it’s less likely. The four teachers I mentioned above were all tenured teachers, not that that means much, but it just shows that they were committed to the school they worked at and were probably feeling pretty comfortable about their future employment. Not anymore.
Two of the four teachers who had their positions eliminated are new moms. In fact, one gave birth only a couple of months after she learned that she would no longer have a job come fall. Another one of the teachers let-go has a list of medical problems that will continue to be an issue whether she’s employed or not. I’m sure finances are a huge concern for these teachers and their families. On top of all the expenses everyone else in the area has (mortgage, insurance, credit cards) these teachers have to also wrestle with student loan debt for the Masters Degrees they were mandated to obtain. As in, they had no choice but to get their Masters if they wanted to continue teaching in New York State. The state makes you get your Masters degree, but, of course, they don’t offer any financial assistance towards the cost of this requirement. But that’s a gripe for another day.
Finding jobs and dealing with mounting debt isn’t limited to recently laid-off teachers. I know many teachers in rural parts of the country who have been trying for years to find jobs. Including myself. I have an advantage over many of the other job-seeking teachers though, I don’t have children, making my job search much more mobile. When I realized that no jobs in the area would be opening up in my field within the next two or three years, I was able to hightail it out of there to more populated areas of the state with larger school districts and better job prospects. I even had the flexibility to leave the state and start new elsewhere. Relocating is expensive, time consuming and emotionally draining. It’s not something most unemployed teachers in rural areas can embark on.
Let’s take K.W., for example. K.W. is an unemployed high school English teacher with two sons. She is unmarried, and while she does reside with her boyfriend (the father of her sons), his income barely covers their expenses. K.W. lives in one of the poorest counties in New York State, and every year she watches as vacated teaching positions get eliminated instead of filled. She has applied for every available English opening, only to be rejected for every one.
The problem doesn’t lie with K.W., but with the circumstances that put K.W. at a disadvantage. You see, K.W.’s boyfriend is employed with a government agency that requires their employees to work swing shifts. Meaning, his schedule is constantly changing from month to month or week to week. K.W. tries to substitute teach in the area schools when she can, knowing that getting your foot in the door in a school is key to getting hired full-time. Unfortunately, she can only sub when her boyfriend’s schedule allows him to be home to watch the boys while she is at work. This doesn’t happen that often.
Day care is out of the question too. After doing the math, K.W. calculated that the amount of money she’d bring home from subbing, assuming she was able to work five days a week, would only be enough to cover the cost of daycare and nothing else. What’s the point then? Essentially, they’d be saving money by not having K.W. working. Unfortunately, come hiring time, K.W. doesn’t have enough of a foot in the door to land a full-time job.
But what about teachers who are able to get their foot in the door? They must have the advantage right? Well, not always. Sometimes having your foot in the door isn’t enough. Unfortunately, in rural areas, often times blood runs thicker than water. Take for example, J.P., an unemployed elementary teacher with a husband and two young daughters. J.P. has had the good fortune of being able to work as a teaching assistant and a substitute teacher at the schools in her area. Unfortunately, J.P. has yet to be hired full-time.
There is a factor involved here (and in many other people’s situations as well) that very few hiring committees or school districts will admit to, but time and time again, continues to happen. School districts, particularly in rural areas, tend to favor alumni and family when hiring. For example, let’s say J.P. applied for a position along with 40 other potential candidates. J.P. happens to be one of the eight fortunate applicants to move on to the interview stage. Unfortunately for J.P., another candidate graduated from the school holding the interviews, and the son of a 4th grade teacher already employed at the school have also been scheduled for interviews. J.P. may be the most experienced and qualified person for the job, but J.P. will not be getting the job.
Unfair? You betcha. But loyalty is strong in small communities, and the alum has a greater chance of being hired over J.P. just because he/she graduated from the school. Unfortunately for the alum, the son of the 4th grade teacher may have an advantage over everyone just because his mother already works for the school.
In conclusion, I wish I could offer a solution to the hardships teachers are facing right now, but I can’t. It pains me when I hear about my friends, my family and my acquaintances, many of them extremely capable teachers, continuously being rejected for teaching positions. I don’t think people truly understand the strikes against them that many teachers have before they even apply for a job. Good teachers are being passed up for positions all the time because circumstances beyond their control are working against them. It’s devastating.