Where my mojo went . . .

25 Jul

I think I know where my mojo went . . . It was sucked down into a black hole with all the hope for the future of the state of California.  Please go read this article on our current budget status . . . it’s short, I’ll wait.

So, you’ll understand why Greg, a native Californian, and I, having lived here and loved it here for the last 30 years or so have actually been talking about our prospects outside the great state of California.

In 2003, I went back to school and got my teaching credential.  I took 2 years out of my family’s potential income and gave up a career that paid better because I wanted to a) work at a job that allowed me to be closer to my school aged children and b) believe that our children need great educations that start at the elementary school level.  I was inspired by the amazing teachers that I saw my children learning from at our little small town school.  We sacrificed a LOT of security in those years to make that happen.

When my credential was finished, I snagged the job of my dreams at the same school my kids go to in our small town and settled down to finish my 2 additional years of state-mandated teacher education (on the job training, what they call an induction program).  I just finished that program at the end of this year.  With that task completed, I am now tenured at my district (more on that later).  I should be looking forward to a long career (very long as retirement is a pipe dream for someone who starts their teaching career in their mid-40’s).  I should be getting into my stride as a teacher.  The state requires that we teachers do continual professional development so I can also look forward to continuing to improve my skills. I say that last party with no sense of irony — I love professional development.  Taking classes, learning new ways to do my job even better, is one of my favorite things — really!  I love to learn! My point is this . . . I should be growing and improving each year as a teacher from now on.

My students do well on state tests and our own district benchmark tests.  Furthermore, they do well as they continue on in school.  I manage to teach art and poetry as part of the 4th grade curriculum along with all the required elements.  I was really proud when I took my daughter to Open House at our middle school and got to see papers posted in the 6th grade classroom from my students who had been in 5th grade the previous year.  They did GREAT!   My school and my district appreciate me and rely on me to do my best in many ways.  I’m on the leadership council for my school and participate in district-wide decision making on technology and education issues.  I run the website for my school and support other teachers with their technology concerns.  I am doing my job and doing it well in all areas.

And, it matters not at all.  In all likelihood, I will be laid off this coming March and be unemployed.  My family will no longer have health insurance and risks losing our house and all the equity we’ve built in 20+ years of home ownership.  In part, I blame the teacher’s unions because they refuse to even consider a program that uses merit over years-on-the-job but, honestly, at my school, there are no bad teachers.  I would HAPPILY put my own children in any teacher’s classroom at this school so who would I like to see laid off ahead of me?  I don’t know.  Most of my anger goes to the state government, however.  Come March, my district will have to make decisions about how to keep it’s budget balanced.  It won’t have the luxury of being able to consider drilling off-shore in order to make up lost income.  It will have to face the horrible prospect that money the state promised us for two years was not paid.  We have had reserves but with the cuts to our budget, there is no hope that the reserves will save our district this time.  We laid of 10 teachers in the round of layoffs that happened in March 2009.  I was the last elementary school teacher standing.  Everyone hired after me was laid off.  Two teachers were re-hired based on projections from the state about funding.  Those projections were not honored by the state and additional cuts will be forthcoming so while we can’t let those teachers go, we can’t afford them either.  So, when they look to cut next year, in all likelihood, I’ll be let go.

I know my principal, fellow teachers, and superintendent will be sad to let me go.  I know they appreciate me.  I know my students and their parents will be sad to see me go.  But, there it is.  We have a system based solely on time on the job and I’m at the bottom of the ladder.  Done, goodbye, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

In a state where we were already underfunding education — California *was* 48th in per student funding of education (how embarrassing is THAT?), we have slashed 6 billion dollars from K-12 education in THIS ROUND alone.  $6 BILLION!!!  My 4th graders don’t even know how many zeros that is when they start with me but they will when they leave my classroom.  And, the republican legislatures and governor pat themselves on the back for not raising taxes in our state.  A dear family friend who is a staunch republican complained to my mother-in-law recently that the reason education is in such dire state in our country is that teachers are paid too much money.  I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive him for saying that or, really, for believing it.  His grandchildren go to private schools.

I believe in public education.  If there were a good private school in our area and if we could afford to send our children there, I’d probably still send them to our small town school because it’s damn good.  I’m proud to work there and proud to send my kids there.  But, I’m not proud of what is happening to our state and I’m not proud of the display of our government patting themselves on the back for a job well done.  They should be hanging their heads in shame and going down on bended knee apologizing to Californians for letting us down, for destroying a great state’s economy.  And, please don’t get me wrong . . . I am not just blaming the current government but the state governors and legislators that have been in office since I was an adult and even before.  This problem has been coming for a long time.  The nation’s financial crisis may have been made over the last 8 years and certainly dragged California’s problems from bad to impossible but California was heading for fall and, baby, we’re falling.

(I’d re-read this for clarity and edits but I don’t have time.  I have to go and meet with my fellow 4th grade teachers.  We are taking time out of our summer to meet and plan for next year.  Even knowing I’ll get pinkslipped in March doesn’t change the way I feel about doing my job.  The kids come first.  Next on my list . . . how to fund all the supplies I’ll need for my classroom.  You don’t think the state lets us have ANY money for pencils and paper, do you?  Not a chance.)


13 Responses to “Where my mojo went . . .”

  1. Jayne 25 July, 2009 at 6:43 am #

    ((((Liza)))) I was watching the news the other night, watching the governor wield that huge knife with a smile on his face and thought of you and how the “cuts” would impact, but had no idea… Wow. I am so very sorry to hear all this. Just know that teachers like you are so very appreciated and respected. I’d hate to see you all have to make difficult decisions to leave California, but like you said, livelihood is a priority. Prayers ascend for some sort of divine intervention for your district’s budget.

  2. robin andrea 25 July, 2009 at 6:57 am #

    I thought of you when I read the budget compromises and the unbelievable slashes to education. It’s an outrage. We sometimes wonder why we ever moved back here, but California is our home, even though it becomes more and more unlivable everyday. It’s obvious that Prop 13 needs to be repealed as does the 2/3 majority requirement for every budget vote.

    I am so sorry that you and your family will likely be shouldering the burdens of lousy legislators and stupid lawmakers who are afraid of doing the really hard work that desperately needs to be done.

  3. Jody 25 July, 2009 at 9:03 am #

    This breaks my heart and makes me very angry at the same time. What can we do? What can we do?

  4. Wren 25 July, 2009 at 4:32 pm #

    I feel for you and your family, and at the same time I feel very angry at all the bad decisions that led us to this point. And how scary is it that someone can believe teachers are overpaid?

  5. John 25 July, 2009 at 7:01 pm #

    That’s just a horrible situation. NJ’s budget situation is bad but not quite that bad yet. The state government shouldn’t have cut that much out of education, or municipal aid generally. I just hope you can find something else if you get laid off.

  6. wende 27 July, 2009 at 11:17 am #

    This is hard stuff, Liza. You know I’ll be thinking about you in this transition. (and praying you don’t get anything Pink!)

  7. KGMom 27 July, 2009 at 3:11 pm #

    Oh Liza–I wish I didn’t have to read this–but I do. And of course you are living the pain, so my reading is the least I can do.
    Here’s what I blame–the stupid American mentality that whines and carries on about paying taxes. We don’t want to pay–we are so selfish.
    What I can’t stand are people who complain about taxes all the while benefitting from some special program.

    • Liza Lee Miller 27 July, 2009 at 6:56 pm #

      Thanks to EVERYONE! I really appreciate the support. Thankfully, I am guaranteed employment through this coming school year. Worst case scenario means that I will get a pink slip in March and then I’ll still be working through June and paid through August (I get my paychecks spread out over 12 months even though I work for 9 months). So, I’m in a better state than many. And, as frustrated as I am, I worry so much about the kids of California. If the schools get bad enough and I’m laid off, I can homeschool and know that my education won’t be wasted! But, most people have no options other than public schools that have served them well . . . and if it’s this bad at my well-performing school . . . how will it be at schools where they weren’t making good progress even before the budget crisis.

  8. laidoffguy 27 July, 2009 at 5:08 pm #

    How sad, and you did that expecting some good to come out of it. How much of the school budget deficit comes from the “no child left behind” policies which wasn’t funded?

    • Liza Lee Miller 27 July, 2009 at 6:53 pm #

      Thank you. Actually, the school budget deficit comes entirely from the state of California’s poor management over the years. They have pulled so much money away from schools in the last two years (with more to come in the future) that whatever burden was put on the state by NCLB has been completely masked. Not that I’m a fan of that policy but this is on the state, not the feds.

  9. Mary Carlson 28 July, 2009 at 7:45 pm #

    Liza, I surely do feel for you and all teachers who are truly *good* teachers. I may have mentioned it before that my son is another one of those excellent teachers — some people are born with the innate ability to teach. You sound like one of them, and I know my son is, too. He is so creative and patient with students and goes out of his way to help friends when they are struggling with their math. Anyway, I feel the way you do about our state’s blunders. It’s incredulous to think our legislators would make budget cuts in education. Education is the backbone of this nation. If our future citizens don’t know their so-called 3R’s, what does that mean for our grandchildren and great grandchildren? Nonetheless, because my son is still unemployed since January, he has now realized that it would be in his best interest to consider looking into research or engineering (he has a BS & MS in math, and a BS in Physics). What I’m getting at here is that those folks who are gifted/talented teachers and seem to always be the first ones laid off are going to find something elsewhere, and that is going to hurt our schools and the children who attend those schools. Sorry for the lengthy rant, but I’m with you on this one. I just wish there was something we could do to get our idiot lawmakers to wake up and smell the coffee! And let’s keep a little hope that you won’t see pink next year.

    • Liza Lee Miller 29 July, 2009 at 8:10 am #

      Thanks, Mary. I’m so sorry about your son. Heartbreaking to be losing good teachers when we need them so badly. I guess what really gets me is that when the school system in California deteriorates – as it inevitably will — many politicians will not point the finger at the real source of the problem but continue to blame the teachers and administrators at the local level who, in general, are doing the best they can with severely limited resources. Speaking purely for my own district, I know that we will continue to strive to improve our test scores and student learning (by a variety of measures) rather than just to sit on our laurels (ahem!) and say, well, they cut our funding, what can we do? We won’t get credit for that, however, when it comes time to re-fund education. It’s very sad.

  10. Mike 30 July, 2009 at 4:34 am #


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