Pink slip yearbook
For the many Sacramento-area teachers losing jobs at the end of this school year, summer break is bittersweet
The end of the school year should be a happy time. Students, teachers and parents have survived another year, and maybe even learned something along the way. But due to the state’s budget collapse, many local teachers are cleaning out their classrooms for the summer, and for good.
We’ve heard plenty from the politicians and pundits about the education crisis. But SN&R thought we should hear directly from the teachers who worked hard all year and got laid off as a reward. As this story was going to print, teachers in the Sacramento City Unified School District were preparing to vote on a deal to save some jobs. (Four of the teachers profiled here work in this district; we’ve updated their status as best known at press time.) Still, around the region, teachers say this was the worst year they’ve ever seen. Think of this as a sort of yearbook for the pink slipped class of 2010.
Erika Martin started teaching in 2004. The 34-year-old second-grade teacher at North Country Elementary School in Antelope received a permanent pink slip in May.
What kind of challenges do you face in the classroom?
The parents, their lives are pretty fragmented. Parents are working several different jobs, there’s day care and the challenge is providing the most stable environment possible [for the children] during the day. For a lot of them, I’m the most consistent part of the day.
What’s a day in the classroom like?
A lot of your day is spent on—well, they’re little kids, they cry, they get upset, they have a lot of stuff going on in [their] lives; they don’t know how to handle that.
Has anything good come of this?
In the future, you’re going to see parents taking a more active role because all these things have [been] sucked out from under them. It’s not that people took teachers for granted before, but I’ve had several people write letters to the superintendent because [the layoffs] have motivated them. They would not have been motivated had we not faced the crisis.
What’s your biggest concern for the future of education?
I feel so bad for the kids. It’s not their fault, and their education is just going to be totally compromised.
• • •
Yvonne Scarbrough, 40, worked as counselor at American Lakes Elementary for five years before getting her final pink slip.
What does your job layoff mean for the students?
I don’t know. I have a lot of regular students who come to me as a place to vent, to focus on issues. I’m an extra support for them to get through the day. In the whole district there are only five counselors, but at this point, there are none at the elementary level.
Are there misconceptions about your job?
There are several. A lot of times I’ve been asked what kind of issues elementary students could possibly have—even by my own friends. People don’t realize that some kids are born into pretty bad situations. They’re born to bad parents, born to gang members, born to a couple that wasn’t planning for them, born into a lifestyle that doesn’t meet their needs. Who couldn’t benefit from undivided attention?
Was this your first time getting a pink slip?
No, anytime there are budget issues, counselors are the first to go, because we don’t have a classroom. This was my third time and my third school. Most of the time I’ve gotten called back in some way, shape or form, but this time it looks pretty bad.
• • •
Rose Penrose, 48, started a second career in teaching after working in education-policy analysis. Penrose, who is married and has a high-school sophomore son, most recently taught English and English development at Natomas Middle School. She got her final pink slip in May.
How long have you been teaching?
Eight years. This is my second career. I worked in education politics before. Basically, I was a policy analyst—a legislative advocate.
Why did you change careers?
A couple of things: I was really burned out. I had been working for an association and had done a bunch of campaign work. I had originally thought I would teach, and then I actually had a severe fall and was on disability for nine months; those kinds of things provide you with opportunity to examine your life and what you’re doing with it.
What is something that parents or the public doesn’t understand about your job?
(Laughs.) There’s the whole notion that we only work six or seven hours a day and that we have summers off—it’s a huge myth.
• • •
Richard Godnick is a high-school English teacher at Luther Burbank High School, which was hit with lots of pink slips because it has a lot of young teachers. Godnick is also a bass player in a punk band. “I guess it was my version of a midlife crisis. Instead of buying a sports car, I decided to join a band again.” Well, at least that’s one crisis solved.
What’s your status?
The way it is right now, I was on the final layoff list. I think it can work out. But there are about 10 “what ifs” on the table right now.
Tell me about your school.
It’s a very diverse school, but it’s a very homogenous school at the same time. It’s diverse in that there are 26 different languages represented. There’s no dominant majority group. It’s sort of like a world fair. I learn a lot about people at that school; that’s one thing I love about it. But it’s kind of homogenous in a way, because almost all of our students live in families that are below the federal poverty line. So there’s that shared experience.
How long have you been teaching?
This is my fifth year as a full-time classroom teacher. I taught for two years in Mexico City, where I used to live, in a bilingual high school there. In 2007, when we moved to Sacramento, I got hired at Luther Burbank High School.
What makes a student successful?
Probably, more than anything, it’s the personal relationships. There are a lot of studies that show relationships with positive adult role models are one of the biggest factors in helping close the achievement gap.
How helpful are test scores in measuring success?
In terms of measuring teacher success by test scores, I think it helps inform us. I think we as teachers need to be open to criticizing ourselves and looking at what we need to work on. But if we’re really going to measure teacher success, it’s got to be a pretty holistic approach. You can’t look at a piece of paper to know how good a teacher is.
Are there great misunderstandings about your job?
There are some pretty amazing ones. I look at the stories in [The Sacramento] Bee, and people are commenting about how teachers just want to sit on their fat paychecks and their cozy health benefits. I look at my school and there are over 100 teachers there, and all of them are working every day, really hard, spending extra time, spending money out of their own pockets. We do it because we love it.
What’s the difference between teaching in Sacramento and Mexico City?
To be honest, students are pretty similar. It has a lot to do with the teacher. If you’re a bad teacher in one place, you’re going to be a bad teacher in the other place. And a lot of the teaching I did in Mexico City was bad teaching, because it was my first couple of years. I think what I realized is there are so many similarities in how kids respond. It’s their natural curiosity, their natural reluctance to push themselves a little harder than they are used to.[page]
Antonia Slagle, 36, has taught at the Met High School for one year. She got pink slipped this May, just like last year.
Tell me something about the school where you’ve been teaching.
I teach in a wonderful environment. There are 230 students, and kids do internships as part of the curriculum. We loop with our kids [teachers and students stay together for two or more years]. We help them pursue their passions. Of course, it’s very challenging. Some kids have support, many don’t, so we end up supporting in all sorts of ways. I have a whole class of kids who came from somewhere else—much of the challenge is encouraging them to believe in and take ownership of their education.
How many hours a day do you work?
On average, 12 hours. On a good day, eight or nine.
How much money out of your own pocket would you say you spend for the class?
Last month alone, I spent $200.
What do you think about the way budget cuts and layoffs have been handled at your school or your district?
I think there should be more conversation going on—on both sides.
How do you measure classroom success?
A lot of it’s qualitative. One of my students was very blasé about school at the beginning of the year, and didn’t really seem to care about what he was doing. Today, he’s buzzing all around, putting his portfolio together, excited because he has something to share with us that he’s proud of—community service, improved study skills and grades, a lot of internship experiences, and, of course, confidence.
What are you going to do next fall?
Hopefully, go back to my students. We are family.
• • •
Erika Hilsabeck taught second grade at American Lakes Elementary School in the Natomas Unified School District for just one year before getting pink-slipped in August. Now the 28-year-old teacher is trying to make a living as a substitute teacher.
How would you characterize American Lakes Elementary?
It’s a Title 1 school, and we have a high poverty level; we have a lot of homeless kids in our district and at that school. There is a lot of tardiness, a lot of absences, a lack of parent help—a lack of parent involvement at all. I think I’ve met two parents the whole time I’ve been there.
What are the effects of having an increased class size?
There are not enough desks for the students, and the ones we do have are falling apart. There’s just not enough room in the classroom for everyone. I subbed in a class yesterday, and the kids had to sit on the floor—there were 28 kids for 24 desks, so four kids have to sit on the floor.
What do you think about the way the district has handled the budget and layoffs?
The board of trustees, I’m not sure how they figure out the budget, but I don’t think they’re spending money the way should be. There are some definite changes they could make and not lay off teachers.
What kind of changes?
Maybe [less] catered lunches at the district office? Every time I go to the district office for something, there is a catered lunch.
• • •
Michelle Setzer, 29, teaches kindergarten at C.E. Dingle Elementary School in Woodland, the oldest school in the Woodland Joint Unified School District.
Why did you become a teacher?
I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl. I just really enjoy watching kids learn and being part of that and making a connection with them. It just comes naturally to me—to break down information into kid-friendly language and help them learn.
What’s the status of your pink slip now?
I just got the news that I’m staying here, and I’ll be teaching a kindergarten-first grade combo. I’m relieved, but I’m also really sad that two of my colleagues don’t get to stay.
What is student-to-teacher ratio?
It was a 20-to-1 ratio, and then it was 25-to-1, and now it will be 35-1.
What are the tangible effects of an increased class size?
On a day-to-day basis, it means a lot more work on everyone’s behalf. When I have five more bodies in the classroom, it means that I can’t get around to all of them, and I spend my day putting out fires instead of preventing them.
What’s one of the myths or misconceptions people have about your job?
Oh, the biggest one was something a parent actually said to me at [parent-teacher] conference. I just about fell out of my chair, because [my job] was hard and I was struggling with two kids and working, and [the parent] said to me, “I don’t know what the big deal is; teaching is a part-time job.”
How do you measure classroom success?
By the end of the year, they’ve gone from being little babies to people with social skills, and they’re telling you what a palindrome is and they’re spouting off math facts and reading words.
• • •
Doyal Martin went into teaching as a second career after producing sports segments for radio and TV. Now in his fourth year of teaching, the 38-year-old sixth-grade teacher at Davis’ Birch Lane Elementary hopes to hold on to his job for good.
What is the status of your pink slip?
I received it in March, and then they rescinded the notice. Right now there’s uncertainty. I was told that my job was extended, but I’m the low man on the totem pole, and I could still be moved into a different job.
Why did you go into teaching?
My dream was to work in TV, but if I had the opportunity, I wanted to teach. I left New York City, got married, had kids and worked at KCRA, and then produced for the morning shift at KFBK—that shift was ridiculous—and the timing was just right for me to get my credential. I didn’t think I’d like teaching this much; I’m truly surprised how much I love these kids.
What is your school like?
It’s a great school; it’s in an education-first community—a small college town in a small community. The kids are great, the parents are great, there’s a top-to-bottom staff and there’s no one better than my principal. We have a garden club—we’re very environmentally conscious—it does encompass Davis to the fullest.
What’s the most promising development in the field of education right now?
I think because of generational change, there is a changing of the guard. I think we’re going to see in the next five to 10 years some real philosophical changes in education; we’re going to see more new, inventive and creative ways of educating.
• • •
Julie Boettner is a fifth-grade teacher at Sutterville Elementary School, where she taught the school’s Gifted and Talented Education—or GATE—class. Like a lot of teachers in the Sacramento City Unified School District, she’s been pink-slipped repeatedly.
What’s your status with the district now?
I have been with the district three years, and I consider myself the luckiest teacher in the district because I’ve had the most amazing opportunities. But at this point, I’m out of there: I have no position, no return rights, nothing.
I’ve never taught the same grade or at the same site two years in a row. I’ve had great success; the kids have done really well academically, socially. I do feel a little frustrated. In the past, in other jobs, when I’ve been successful, I’ve gotten raises and promotions. In this job, we get pink slips.
The kids wanted to have a countdown on the wall to summer vacation. I can’t do it. It’s too bittersweet for me. It hurts too much.
What are your options at this point?
Unemployment? I’m too invested to walk away at this point. Plus, this is my calling. I’m hoping I might be one of the lucky ones. I would love to remain at Sutterville. This is what I have to do. I am a true optimist. I know the work I’m doing is going to make a difference. I know the economy is going to pick up and that society is going to realize that education is the most important thing. These are the people who are going to run the country in 20 years. It’s my job to give them the tools to analyze and to be compassionate. So I just have to hang in there.[page]
Sarah Noah has taught sophomore English and drama for the last four years at Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks, part of the San Juan Unified School District. As she told SN&R, the layoff means that she has to leave a school she loves, and she has to leave Sacramento, too.
What’s your status right now?
I’m jobless as of right now. Initially there were about 300 layoffs in the San Juan district, but they got a new health-care plan, which pretty much saved elementary-school jobs. But it didn’t really affect high-school teachers that much. At my particular site, there are six teachers getting laid off.
What’s your plan at this point?
I don’t know. I lost the place where I’m living. It was a rental, and the person who was renting it to me wants to move back in. But I can’t rent a new place because I don’t have a job. So I’m going back to live with my father in the Bay Area.
How did you get into teaching?
I subbed for a long time, when my kids were little. I’ve been teaching for probably 20 years, but not all in the public schools. I did a lot of teaching music and drama in private schools. I’ve had three of my children graduate from Bella Vista, and I still have one daughter who is finishing her freshman year here.
So she has to leave, too?
Right. It’s really hard on her. She’s got a lot of friends, and she’s on the track team. It’s a difficult transition. I think she’s taking it kind of personally that they’re letting me go. It’s the seniority system, and she sees it as being so unfair.
Are you taking it personally?
It’s the system. I do wish it would change. There are several here that are really fantastic teachers that are not coming back. Then there are some that have tenure but for whatever reasons, they’re not very good teachers. If it was based on merit, I would still be here. They’ve made that very clear.
Do you think you’ll leave teaching?
Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve got to support myself. I don’t see things in California getting a lot better. I really don’t want to go through this again next year. It just puts such a color on the end of the year. It should be this joyous celebration, but it’s really difficult. Teachers are upset, kids are upset, parents are upset. It’s just not a nice way to end the school year.
So your students know you’re leaving.
Right. We had to have hearings with the union and the district. So I was gone four days, and I’m very rarely out. So I told them. They actually made a Facebook site to save my job.
That’s really very sweet.
It’s incredibly encouraging, you know, that these kids cared. As hard as it is to lose your job, I think I’ve done what I wanted to do. I’ve touched these kids’ lives.
• • •
Emily Catlett is a counselor at Luther Burbank High School. In the middle of May, six of the seven counselors at Luther Burbank High School learned they were being laid off. At press time, union members were getting ready to vote on a plan that would save some counselor jobs.
What does a high-school counselor do?
In a nutshell, we bridge the gap. We serve as a bridge from the student to the parent, we serve as a bridge from the student to the teacher, from the student to college. The idea is that no one falls through the cracks.
A student may come in who’s been truant for the past week. You sit down with them and talk about the missed classes and the truancy. I know them, and they’ll tell me, “Well, this is going on at home,” or “I haven’t gotten any sleep because my grandfather is dying.” We make referrals to outside counseling or the clothes closet or to the soup kitchen or for glasses. Whatever they need, we figure it out.
Is that a big issue in your school, students don’t have enough?
Absolutely. In Sac City Unified, it’s pretty staggering how many students are living at or below the poverty line. The funny thing is, if you ask them, “What are the obstacles that you have?” they often don’t see, you know, household size of 10 people, income $25,000 to $32,000. They don’t see that as an obstacle, they see that as their life.
What do you think about the way these layoffs have been handled?
We listen to what the [Sacramento City Teachers Association union] says, we listen to what the district says. But you have to kind of decide for yourself where the truth lies. From what I can tell, in my opinion, the district hasn’t been as transparent as they might be.
Students know you’ve been pink-slipped?
I’d say one in every three says, “I hear you’re not going to be here next year. What am I going to do? Who am I going to talk to? Who’s going to help me get into college?”
• • •
Eloise Bistis, 62, is not a teacher; she’s technically a clerk. But “Mrs. B,” as the students call her, has served as librarian at Ethel Phillips Elementary School for the last eight years. She’s been with the district for more than 30 years. Now, just three years shy of retirement, Mrs. B has been pink-slipped, too.
Tell me about your school.
It’s such a sweet little school. It’s multigenerational. Some of the grandparents sent their children to the school, because it was built in the 1950s. Those kids went on to McClatchy [High School], and I knew them when I worked there. Everyone is very well-behaved, relatively. Kids are kids.
I know some of the kids found out about the pink slip.
One of the kids asked, “Are you going to take all the books with you when you leave?” And I said, “Oh no, there will be some way to check books out to the kids.” And then this one girl—she’s very smart, got the highest math scores in the district, this kid—asked, “Is this really necessary?”
You’ve seen bad budget years. You’ve even seen teachers go on strike in the past. How does this year compare?
This seems so much scarier and draconian. I’m heartbroken. Ever since I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a librarian.
I went to the library with my older sister and I saw all those books and I thought, “Wow, people work here, taking care of books and giving them to people.” Finally, eight years ago, I got to do it.