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Pete Mason

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Losing Your Job as a Teacher in Cuomo's New York

Posted: 05/23/11 09:36 PM ET

The feeling of telling someone you lost your job is a difficult task to undertake. I didn't really lose my job though; I had it taken from me by New York Governor Cuomo with his budget cuts to education and by NYSUT, the union I belong to, whose support of an inane "Last in, First out" rule has prevented me from continuing my work with my high school students.

I have been on a nine-year journey through two graduate schools, three one-year teaching positions between New York and Florida and countless days of substitute teaching in the hopes that I would be more marketable to a district in the process. The 'Last in, First out' rule cost me and thousands of others around the state this year and it is destroying the institution of teaching.

A generation of teachers is preparing for retirement and without adequate replacements who are fresh in recent best practices and motivated to hit the ground running, the profession of teaching is doomed and the next generation we are charged to educate will suffer even greater odds as a result. In a profession where a majority of teachers leave after five years, the national commitment to education has faded.

As a nation, we do not give support to teachers and educators: instead, politicians and parents alike condemn teachers when students do not succeed and decide to make drastic budget cuts that make educating the next generation less appealing as a career. Where are the priorities of this once great nation? Governor Cuomo says that districts should have better fiscal management: "Manage the school system. Reduce the waste. Reduce the fraud. Reduce the abuse."

Well, which one am I Governor Cuomo? A waste? A fraud? An abuse of the system? Was my hiring a poor choice for a resource room for students with Asperger's Syndrome despite my expertise with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders? Are you really in a position to make a call like that?

Governor Cuomo does not want administrators to get a high six-figure salary and this we agree on. It is the teachers who should be getting six-figure salaries and administrators who are needed to help guide teachers and provide management of the school district slightly higher. If you want the best possible teachers for the future, make it worth their while to take the job.

How can you convince a college student with a straight face to accept a job that is guaranteed to leave a new teacher with little money to pay off student loans, buy a house, have a family or find a way to make ends meet without a second job during the school year? This is even harder for those who have families and children to provide for. The profession of teaching has now become a national joke, whereby teachers make paltry sums of money but are expected to undertake a task that will be scrutinized every single day, plan and teach lessons, meet the needs of students, all with the threat of having classroom sizes increase to unmanageable proportions or worse, losing their job because the Governor and Legislature of the state, despite not being teachers themselves, decide that you are expendable.

Special Education was once 'safe' from cuts but this is not true anymore. I went to graduate school the first time to get a Masters in Social Studies Education. I went back a year and a half later because it was said that certification in Special Education would help my marketability as a teacher but I ultimately stayed in Graduate school the second time so that I might help students with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Now my job has been cut and a veteran teacher will take over a resource room for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders. This person may have no experience with this area of Special Education, partially because it is a field which is relatively new and research and best practices are constantly emerging. Few who have not been focused on the Autism Spectrum in the past 20 years will find it challenging. Certainly, teachers in a position like this will step up to the challenge, but I had already done so and found every possible way to support my students based on my recent and continuing efforts in this field.

New York State and NYSUT rules support the established teacher but do not support those trying to become established. Come this September, without an unlikely influx of money from the state to prevent this, my students will have had three teachers in three years: my predecessor retired last August, I had my job cut, not because I wasn't good enough or did a poor job, but rather because I hadn't been around long enough. So I venture out to find another Special Education position, but with the cuts levied by Governor Cuomo that is less likely this year more than any other year. And when I start at a new school, I'll be starting as the Last in, ready to be the First out once Politicians decide that they know what is best for the classroom cut more money from education statewide.

Society is told through our leaders each High School and College Commencement season that teaching is a high calling with a great deal of importance for the future. Yet we underfund education on a routine basis and make it the first thing to go when cuts need to be made without considering all other options, including allocating money from elsewhere in the budget to asking citizens to share the burden of ensuring a positive future with an education tax. We lose as a nation when we do this, but the harm is local and lasting.

I love my job and my position but this is not the way to treat a teacher fresh from graduate school with four years prior teaching experience. Teaching should not be a journeyman's profession. I have had friends suggest looking at Delaware, North Carolina, even teaching in Europe. The cost to move and relocate my life isn't worth it.

I wanted to teach where I grew up but Governor Cuomo chooses not to allow that. He would rather I go on unemployment and live on less than half my current salary with no benefits. Bills for student loans will pile up; my knowledge and expertise will lie dormant for months, if not years; my students will not understand why I am not there to help them when that is exactly what I would rather do.

How can you explain this to them, Governor Cuomo? You are on a "People First" campaign without the slightest tinge of irony that you indeed did not put people first in your inaugural budget -- teachers came last and students farther down the list.

This is no way to earn a living and it is no way to treat those who put themselves to work for the betterment of others and society. It is a slap in the face of those who invest in their education for the purpose of helping those with the greatest educational needs succeed.

My students will lose a teacher who has the talents and knowledge to get them on the track to college and the workforce both prepared and educated for the future, but thanks to Governor Cuomo and NYSUT, I will not get the experience needed to survive another round of budget cuts. Governor Cuomo is in charge of preserving the states economic future while NYSUT is supposed to turn teaching jobs into teaching careers.

Neither did their job and I have lost mine.

 

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