Courtney Couvreur, a second-year math teacher at Oakland International High School and teacher convention delegate, writes about how the threat of layoffs has affected her school — and how it might continue to be felt, even after some of the pink slips are rescinded.
At Oakland International High School, each staff member at our school shares a vision of a high-quality, college-prep education for all immigrant children. We work in collaborative teams and have formed tight bonds with our colleagues. This March, all but two of our English and social studies teachers received pink slips. We have moved from outrage to grief as we recognize how disruptive this will be to our community. We rely on each other’s expertise and passion in teaching a wide range of ESL, and we know that to lose even one of our teachers to layoffs will change the fabric of our school.
We have experienced a slump in morale that some say will end once many of the layoff notices are rescinded, but we cannot just bounce back as though the pink slips never happened. We are worried about our own mortgages, student loans, and children’s futures. We have been made to feel insecure about losing the support of our colleagues, finding new jobs in other districts, whether finding a job will mean having to move. For those of us who have been bounced between several districts’ mass layoffs, we worry that we will never been able to gain a toehold in one community.
Our students feel the anxiety and unfairness of pink slips; dealing with these feelings and rebuilding our hope will take work. All of our students wrote letters to the Board asking that they reconsider the layoffs and find the money somewhere else. Here are a few of their voices:
“I feel really comfortable with [my teachers] because I have known them for a long time and I feel they understand me. The more teachers we have, the better we can get individual help”
Naseem, Yemen, 12th grade
“Without my English teachers, I would not be able to write this letter. Teachers who are moved around might take a long time to learn to teach us.”
Indra, Nepal, 12th grade
“My English teacher cannot be replaced by someone else. Another teacher will not know me as she knows about me. It will be so hard without her.”
Shazia, 11th grade, Afghanistan
It takes years for a teacher to develop expertise teaching a particular subject and level. The best teachers are those who are permitted to hone their craft over several years. To move teachers around from site to site, from grade level to grade level, suggests that we are merely cogs that can be easily replaced by one another. This process ignores the value of each teacher’s unique relationship with a school and students, which results in an incredible disservice to kids and adults alike.
This weekend I joined over 200 teachers at OUSD’s Teacher Convention, which was held to provide teachers with an opportunity to assemble, exchange ideas, and help shape OUSD’s future. At the convention teacher-delegates from across the district united to urge the district to reprioritize funding and rescind as many pink slips as possible, keeping dedicated teachers in their classrooms.
I hope that Oakland Unified School District pays heed to students’ pleas and teachers’ wisdom and decides to put students first by providing them with the teachers they need.