Sunday, October 26, 2014

Educators Teach Congress the Meaning of ‘Layoff’

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Brianna Clegg, a Stockton, California, fourth grade teacher, was having a fabulous day. She was being celebrated by the San Joaquin County Office of Education for being a “Teacher of Excellence” in English instruction and she was walking on air.

“So I went home with my award in hand, opened my mailbox—and there was my pink slip,” she recalls, choking up.

Teaching isn’t just a job to Clegg. “This is my passion, my life. I’m walking around my classroom thinking, ‘If I’m not here next year, what will I do?’”

Clegg was among teachers from around the country who flew to Washington this week to lobby Congress as a showdown looms on the educator jobs bill.

Santa Anna, California, teacher Clarissa Barragan was also part of the lobbying effort. Raised and educated in Santa Anna, Barragan was the first member of her family to finish college. She is a powerful role model for many Latino students, proving that hard work can still make the American dream come true. Except that she lost her job to the economic crisis a year ago. Barragan was riffed three times in three years, and the last time, she wasn’t hired back. But she’s been subbing all year, still trying to get a permanent job teaching in the community she loves.

Moving from school to school, Barragan sometimes comes across her old students. “They say, ‘Miss B, what happened to you?’ I let them know it’s not personal, I didn’t do something wrong! It’s hard to face those kids. But the state is saying I can no longer do what I’m passionate about.”

Gina Frutig came to lobby from Durham, North Carolina. Frutig remembers deciding to become a teacher when she was in college and her father sat her down to explain that she would have to pay her own way after she graduated.

She loved working with children, from babysitting at age 12 to tutoring when she was in college and many other activities in between, but her college major was musical theater. Teaching seemed a more solid profession: She could be creative, but also pay her bills. Dad was pleased.

But “solid” is perhaps not the best description for teaching these days. She subbed for two years in Michigan but couldn’t find a permanent job. Then she landed a wonderful position in Durham, just perfect for her, in a Title I magnet school that features arts integration. Four years later, she’s out of work.

Frutig found fame on the Internet after a dramatic, two-minute speech to a committee of the state legislature urging more state funding for schools. Her efforts and those of other North Carolina educators have made headway at the state and local levels, and many Durham teachers now seem likely to be hired back. And when she visited Capitol Hill to lobby for the jobs bill, she felt people were listening.

“I keep thinking, ‘They have to find the money because there are going to be kids there,’” she says.

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