Pink Slip for a First-Year Teacher

By Jodie Gittleson
Sunday, October 11, 2009

In response to all of the positive press that Michelle Rhee has received of late, I'd like to share my experience as a first-year teacher with the D.C. public schools. No doubt, Chancellor Rhee's contribution to the education of the city's children has been substantial. But there are other ways of looking at this story.

After devoting the past six years of my life to earning bachelor's and master's degrees in early childhood education, I applied for a job with a number of school districts, hoping to make a difference in the lives of students in an urban area. I was especially interested in the D.C. schools, given the District's efforts to implement an IMPACT assessment program to maximize teacher effectiveness and improve test scores. I was fortunate to have learned about the IMPACT program during my graduate studies.

So I was delighted to receive a call from the principal of Shaed elementary school in Northeast, offering me the position of third-grade teacher. I eagerly signed my contract, withdrew all my applications to other schools and started preparing myself for this fantastic opportunity. This involved a number of major investments, including buying a car and signing a lease and moving into a new apartment. I also acquired my D.C. teaching license and purchased school supplies and a few "extras" to help motivate my students, plus all the bells and whistles I needed to create a welcoming classroom environment.

Of course, no amount of effort can quite prepare you for the kind of change that amounts to a whole new life, and, indeed, the past five weeks have been eye-opening. I quickly realized that the students in my class would need tremendous support to meet the emotional and intellectual challenges of third grade. But I saw this as an exciting challenge that I was well qualified to fulfill, given the academic and hands-on experience I had accumulated over the past six years.

Translating this knowledge to the classroom to meet the needs of these students -- many of whom had lived difficult lives -- required all the dedication I could muster. This meant focusing both on the needs of the class and the needs of each student. I started early each day, and I worked late, writing and reviewing lesson plans into the evening.

Then, on Oct. 2, I was laid off. In a last-minute attempt to balance the budget, Rhee and the city opted to cut more than 200 teachers during the most critical period of the academic year -- just when students were getting acclimated to their new environments.

My immediate concern was about what would happen to my students, because I was the only third-grade teacher at my school. My principal informed me that my students would be mixed in with fourth- and second-graders. Yes, these are tough economic times, but does that justify providing a poor educational experience for these children? Simply reassigning them in this way will greatly degrade the educational experience for my third-graders, not to mention those in the classes into which they must be integrated. While I am obviously upset about losing my job, many more individuals are going to suffer from this shortsighted decision.

We live in a great city in a wonderful country. We must remain competitive and teach our students at the highest standards. The decision to lay off teachers weeks into the school year has been disruptive to the children and dishonest to the teachers who made commitments to the D.C. schools. I am floored by what has happened, and I cannot help but draw conclusions about the long string of missteps that must have led to this.

And I have to ask: Will Chancellor Rhee be held accountable?

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