The 507 Prince George's teachers laid off in a massive school budget cut two weeks ago are slowly reordering their lives.
Most are women, and teaching is often the only education and job experience they have. Whether single or married, many have children to support. Because there are virtually no teaching jobs between Richmond and Delaware, many face the choice of finding a job outside teaching or becoming full-time homemakers.
"I'm not just a mother," said one 40-year-old teacher with three children. "This is my life," she said, teary-eyed at the thought of not being in class when school opens in September.
Single women with children are those most devastated by the cuts.
"I am a sole supporter, I have two children and of course I'm a homeowner," said Glenda Harris, 32. "Right now it's very depressing. I just don't know what's going to happen in terms of supporting my obligations and my children. It almost makes you feel like a failure when somebody can just come and take your job."
Single women also face losing their hard-won independence.
"I could move back in with my parents," said 35-year-old Eileen Rubinstein. "But I wouldn't like that and my cats wouldn't like it," the English teacher said, adding, "I'm too old to live with my parents."
Some women with children, especially those in the hard-hit positions of elementary music, reading and media specialist, boast 12 to 15 years of teaching experience in the county. But because they once resigned to raise children or moved with a husband's job, they can claim fewer years of continuous service toward the seniority that determines cuts.
Male teachers have been hit less hard because elementary school programs, where males are scarce, took a large portion of the cuts. But the fact offers little solace to those who have been let go.
"I've a wife and two children and a house. And all of the usual payments," said Lindsay Thomas, a driver education teacher for the last 16 years. "I'm just not too sure what I'll do at the end of the summer. My wife still goes around and mumbles, '16 years, 16 years.' "
Teachers without families call themselves the lucky ones. They are free to pursue their beloved, but beleaguered, profession in places like Saudi Arabia, as Robert T. Gray, a former gym teacher at Fort Washington Forest Elementary school, is doing.
"There's not much point in looking here," said 28-year-old Patricia Bernardo, who has already searched in two counties in Florida. Bernardo is getting married this week and her fiance would like to stay here.
The layoffs were forced because TRIM, the voter-imposed limit on property tax collections, and federal budget cutbacks produced a financial shortfall that County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan placed squarely on the schools. While unions representing nonteaching employes voted to postpone raises to save the jobs of over 300 members threatened with layoffs, teacher representatives refused the suggestion of givebacks.
When Nona Wegner and Libby Wellman of the Yorktown Business school offered to help the teachers print their resumes, they thought it would be a community service and a good experience for their students learning to use word processors. But they found that the teachers' resumes were in such bad shape, the school's office director had to edit them, Wegner said. The school has hired part-time staffers to complete the task.
"I know they know better, but they're just panic-stricken," said Wegner. "There's a lot of trauma out there." She has seen almost 100 teachers in the group sessions that offer not only career advice but positive reinforcement for the teachers' battered egos. "It's almost like therapy," Wegner said.
Yorktown director Joan McMenomey advised the teachers that job-hunting is "sort of like getting dressed. You dress to emphasize your good qualities and de-emphasize your bad ones," she told a group of 18 teachers clutching manila folders with first-draft resumes inside.
Teachers who planned to enter the business world were told to list specific skills from their classroom experiences to impress prospective employers. Some teachers found it hard to imagine that their skills would be worth anything in an office environment.
"I was a good teacher, that was my niche in life," said Pat Seward, an elementary school teacher from the Rosecroft area. "I can't type, I can't manage a budget, but I can cope with just about anything."
The teachers also were warned to forget their kindly manners and be prepared to vault over secretary desks to put a resume on the boss's desk.
"Keep a resume on you all the time, tell everybody you know you're looking for a job," Wegner told the group. "Approach people in the elevator and say, 'Hi--I'm a RIFfed Prince George's teacher," she said, only half kidding.
"Teachers are a very docile group," said 39-year-old Sharon Smith of Greenbelt after the pep talk. "I had to laugh when she said that. Secretaries stop me cold: I'm not a very aggressive person."
Smith had only nine consecutive years as a teacher when the seniority lists were made because she left the county for two years in 1971 when her husband took an acting job in Michigan. Last year her husband left a college teaching post to write a book, never dreaming his wife would lose her job.
"I cried so hard, I had to leave school," Smith said of the day she learned of her dismissal. "I never expected they would touch me.
"Am I scared? You know I'm scared. I've been doing the same thing for 17 years. What is there now?"