School starts tomorrow at the public schools here in Texas, and I am not buying Office Depot pocket folders or Staples' eraser packs for a penny apiece today. I'm not even driving from one Target to another so I can pay a nickel per spiral and buy 30 or 40 in a day. (Yes, I do that.)
School starts tomorrow and I didn't spend my weekend setting up a classroom or an office.
For the first time since 1988, school starts tomorrow and I won't be there.
Instead, I have an afternoon appointment at the Texas Workforce Commission's orientation for the unemployed.
Irony of Ironies.
I am not alone though. According to the Texas Tribune,
The Associated Press reported that up to 100,000 of the state's 330,000 teachers might lose their positions. Officials at the Texas State Teachers Association estimate that about 12,000 teachers have lost their jobs so far, and they warn more teachers could be laid off in the second year of budget cuts.
Back in 1988, I accepted a Title VII fellowship from the federal government that paid for my teacher certification program in exchange for an agreement that I would teach ESL or bilingual education in a "high needs area" for three years. The government got its money's worth from me as I extended those three years into 21 years and never left. Until now.
Some years I spent more of my time tutoring small groups, testing, mentoring new teachers, evaluating high school transcripts from 45 countries, acting as a counselor and administering a newcomer program, but mostly I've been in the classroom. Since arriving in Texas in 1998, I've become something of a specialist in teaching SIFE: Students with Interrupted Formal Education, kids with a five year (or more) gap in their education. That is to say, I have become very good at working with war refugees and students so poor that their families couldn't pay for their textbooks or uniforms beyond third grade. I've developed curriculum to help make up for four or five years of middle grades math in a year or two, while integrating English, life skills and US culture. In the past few years, I added English-keyboarding and computer skills to the mix.
But this year, the State of Texas decided that education is not important enough to fund, and my services are no longer required by my district.
What does this mean for the state and for the students?
First off, it means that fewer immigrants will get the benefit of my skills and expertise. I guarantee that this will result in an increase in the high school drop-out rate of the new immigrants and refugees at my former school, making the students far less likely to become productive tax-paying adults. Multiply this effect by the thousands of educators and other school employees, and the education level of Texans will drop, and high school dropout rates among Texas students will skyrocket.
But isn't the state saving money by firing me and all those other educators?
Actually, no. They're paying us unemployment and they've lost us as consumers. At this point, I have decreased my spending so much that the state is not getting much in the way of sales tax from me. I am also largely dropping out of the local economy. I'm not buying new clothes for myself or my son, not allowing my son to go to the movies or spend money on anything other than the bare necessities, we've stopped eating in restaurants, and the federal government is losing my payroll taxes. The state is also paying someone to process my unemployment claims and to conduct the training session I am attending tomorrow.
How easy is it for me to find another job in a similar field? Well, without even entering a minimum salary or choosing part time or full time, this is what the TX Workforce commission has to offer in my area:
Selected Search Criteria Occupational Category: Education, Training, and Library; ZIP Code: 787__ Plus: 25 miles 2 result(s) found
Search Results Job Title Location Pay Action Library Associate AUSTIN, TX Confidential View Job Posting Childcare Worker AUSTIN, TX Confidential View Job Posting
My former school district has almost the same, and the job listings in the local paper are worse.
Fortunately, I did just complete a 3 week teaching gig at a an adult ESL school and have some hope for securing at least a part time job there for the semester. Probably without benefits.
So where does this leave me?
Unemployed, poor, trying to figure out how to keep my apartment, and discouraged. Unemployment will pay my rent and my COBRA, but nothing else. No food. No utilities. No extras of any kind.
My son is a HS senior my focus is only on getting us through this school year. I know I am one of the lucky ones ---- my brother just offered to pay my September rent. But I'd much rather be focused on making sure that the refugee and immigrant high school students are in the right classes and learning English and the skills they need to function in the United States.