It was the worst of times…



Well, being unionized, it’ll be a lot more civilized than that, but a week that started with my school being subject to “reconstitution” ended with me getting one of these.  Keep a couple things in mind…

  1. Last week ended with a lot success and kudos from my peers and others at CUE. I was sharing what was going on in the lab with students, and getting great feedback.
  2. The seniority dates for pink slip notices  under discussion were in the 7 year range, and seemed far away.
  3. Our school thought our principal was likely to get replaced, but as a staff, we were getting more focused, and organized in our instruction.

Now, my school is gonna be tossed to the four winds, and although I’ll probably be recalled since I’m right at the cutoff date, it’s highly unlikely I will be in the lab, or at my current site. I don’t know what to say. Random moments of absurdity from this week…

  • The district, perhaps trying to be kind, responded to an inquiry about our site by teachers at another school, but saying that we had “won a state grant”. Well, only if we kick 50% of the staff out. Really, it doesn’t help with the humiliation factor!
  • My district is recruiting TFA interns to fill positions that really aren’t open, and the district is claiming that they will not be filling any of the positions now made vacant by lay offs.

And this brings us to the rest of my post. You see, the only problem with this is they’ve sent pink slips out to high school teachers in math and science (the very “hard to fill” positions they claim they need under-qualified TFA interns for). They have also sent pink slips to a number of special education teachers at elementary, who would likely be better candidates for training to work in high school special ed classes than someone with absolutely no experience teaching anyone let alone high school kids with special needs.

I will not go into a long discussion about this, but many graduates of our two local public university teacher training programs  would love to get jobs in my district. For a variety of reasons, the biggest having to do with the districts insistence on not opening classroom teaching positions when more students show up at the start of school than are planned for until a month after school starts, this hasn’t happened. Instead, these teachers leave the state to find a teaching job before my district even gets around to posting these openings.

Call me paranoid, but I’m seeing this as a really clumsy execution of a policy to undermine unionized teachers.  I can’t help but think that they are trying to reach back as far as they can in the seniority pool, to clear out space for these interns, even though it would violate state labor law. They want to replace contracted teachers with inexperienced interns. I hope I’m wrong, and this is just poorly executed due to the new superintendent’s lack of experience, especially in working with a unionized teaching staff.

But, it’s not just about me, and my fellow teachers. We need to understand why this is important for the kids. This is what they should be doing:

  1. Improve the pipeline from CSUS, and UC Davis math and science teaching programs. Make a decision after week one to open new classes, and have those in the pipeline ready to go. They will have the advantage of already working in these schools, and be trained to work with language learner populations. In my opinion, using TFAers with minimal training working with this population would be a violation of those students’ civil rights.
  2. Offer unfilled high school special education positions to teachers in surplus pool, if they willing to work on getting the proper credentialing.  They will at least have experience with special education populations, and a solid understanding of best practices. Once again, using TFAers for this when other more qualified candidates were available, would be a violation of those students’ rights.
  3. If you have teachers who are on emergency credentials in those positions now, they have one more year of experience than the TFA interns which makes them superior. Make sure they are in a decent alt cert program.(1) Most of the studies comparing TFAs effectiveness are comparing them to alt cert teachers and they usually come up about equal in the short run. Since TFA has such a high attrition rate (85% in four years), that’s not saying much. Also, if teachers on emergency credentials are not up to snuff, they are the one class of teacher than be removed with very little fanfare (2 weeks notice). You would then want to look back up at #1 for a higher quality replacement.


(1) Many of the teachers that are out of certification in science are only out because they are credentialed for another area. In other words, they’ve taken all their teaching theory classes, how to teach language learner classes, and science class in one subject (say Earth Science), they just are teaching in another science subject (say Biology).  I’m more troubled by someone not having any training in teaching than a Geologist teaching Biology while he works on finishing up a couple classes in Biology while he’s teaching.
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22 Comments to

“It was the worst of times…”

  1. March 14th, 2010 at 7:56 pm       Frank, The Divergent Learner Says:

    Alice … sorry to read this about you, other teachers and the students. I am sure that other doors will open for an educator with your talents. However, I am sure that these things are difficult at best. Good luck.

  2. March 14th, 2010 at 8:31 pm       Dan McGuire Says:

    Hang in there, Alice. Your community desperately needs your clear eyed perspective and experience.

  3. March 14th, 2010 at 8:34 pm       alicemercer Says:

    Clarity of thought does seem in short supply, doesn’t it?

  4. March 14th, 2010 at 9:58 pm       Mathew Says:

    Sorry to hear that. It’s hard to believe that they’re going that far back with the layoffs.

  5. March 14th, 2010 at 10:38 pm       Jonas Says:

    From what I gather some employees have already received their pink slips yesterday? How can that be since they were only mailed by SCUSD on Friday?

    • March 15th, 2010 at 4:12 am       alicemercer Says:

      Some were notified on Friday verbally, but still haven’t received them (me). Some will be notified today (Monday) verbally, and we’re not quite sure how they will receive the notices. They are required to be post marked by 3/15 is what I’ve been told.

    • March 15th, 2010 at 6:11 am       alicemercer Says:

      Jonas, looks like you might be in Sacramento, I recommend you follow Real Teachers on FaceBook, where information and organizing will be done.

  6. March 15th, 2010 at 9:56 am       nzchrissy Says:

    I’m shaking my head in disbelief Alice, just shaking my head. As one door closes many will open – here’s to your doors opening soon!

  7. March 16th, 2010 at 2:10 am       Michael Stout Says:

    Dear Alice,
    First, please forgive me for taking so long to respond to this post. To be honest, I didn’t believe what I was seeing in the Face Book newsfeed. I thought a “pinkslip” must be something different in the States. I couldn’t believe that any administrater would ever part with a tremendous teacher like you. I remember when you answered some questions I had about voicethread, and I see all the sharing you do with others through twitter and your great blog. I remember you telling me about your workload too. I just can’t get my head around this. I was under the impression that California had a shortage of teachers. I don’t understand how the government can layoff unionised teachers and replace them with underqualified non-unionised teachers. I can’t understand why ALL teachers in California aren’t unionised.
    A similar type of treachery is occuring in Japan now. High schools and universities are deciding to not renew the contracts of full-time Native English speaking teachers. They are hiring teachers from outsourcing companies instead. Some of these people are qualified, but many aren’t.
    Alice, I have no doubt that you will turn this negative into a positive. I have no doubt that you will be back in the classroom soon. My thoughts are with you.
    Yours sincerely,

  8. March 16th, 2010 at 3:36 am       Bill Ferriter Says:

    Hey Alice,

    On a personal note, you’re going to be fine. With your talent and skill, not only will you be able to work in a classroom if you want, you’ll be able to move beyond a classroom if needed as well.

    But that’s the hitch, isn’t it? Rather than recognizing that they had a motivated teacher willing to work with a high needs population, your district chose to show you the door—and it’s a door that you might just not walk back through.

    That, to me, shows a callousness on the part of your system. Obviously student achievement isn’t the primary concern in a district that would happily replace an experienced and committed teacher in a high poverty population with a underprepared teacher with no intention of making teaching a career.


    TFA doesn’t even pretend to be a long term solution to the teaching shortage plaguing high needs schools. Do you know that they provide NO support to their teachers beyond year 2?

    Kind of tipping their cards, aren’t they? TFA isn’t a program to develop teachers. It’s a program to develop really affluent individuals who’ve had some teaching experience. While that might eventually pay off in results—some TFAers are bound to end up serving in legislative bodies someday—-it does nothing for your students today.


    Anyway…enough preaching to the choir.

    • March 16th, 2010 at 3:48 am       Dan McGuire Says:

      Essential points, though, Bill. We still need to hear the sermon a time or two even if we’re in the choir. The forces that are pushing Alice and others out the door aren’t going to recognize the criminality of their actions until our voices in the choir get a whole lot louder and are joined by the ‘congregation.’

  9. March 16th, 2010 at 10:53 am       Ms. S Says:

    Landed on this site through a twitter feed. I am sorry to hear about your situation; surely firing qualified teachers is NOT the solution.

    However, as a current TFA teacher, I feel the need to stick up for myself and my organization.

    First of all, in response to Bill, TFA does not provide support after year 2 because it is a two year program. Teachers that stay on after their second year are no longer under the aegis of TFA, and thus are no longer TFA teachers.

    Furthermore, TFA is most definitely a program to develop teachers. Our Teaching as Leadership rubric for teacher assessment and improvement has just been published — go read it. It’s actually fantastic and has been compared to DCPS’s Teaching and Learning Framework (and DCPS cites TAL as an influence:

    Additionally, teacher retention rates in areas that TFA places (such as rural South Dakota, my placement) are rarely any better than the two-year retention for current TFAers. Furthermore, most studies decrying TFA as ineffective have been discredited due to shoddy methodologies — including the Laczko-Kerr article that you cite (see this article from Education Next:

    I do understand the tendency to see TFA as a band-aid organization, but I, as well as upwards of 7,000 other TFA corps members, am honestly toiling day after day to do my very best for the students that I answer to. And that includes being the best teacher I can possibly be. For as long as possible. And even if some of my fellow corps members leave their posts (I plan to stay), we leave knowing that an equally ambitious and qualified TFA recruit will replace us. Teachers that quit in high-turnover schools without the backing of a national program cannot say that.

    I lament the loss of any teacher — TFA or not — who is truly dedicated to education and again, I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with this. You may not agree with me, but we are really trying to be part of the solution, same as you.

    • March 16th, 2010 at 12:27 pm       Minerva Says:

      To Ms. S, the TFA teacher: Thanks for clarifying TFA for us. Let me point out that I am not a teacher but a very concerned PARENT. I believe that it always will never be a good idea to displace veteran teachers with freshly-minted and “motivated” TFA teachers at any given point in time. Even with all the “studies” that show how TFA is so great and no matter how erudite your “theories of learning” sound, I believe that nothing is better than long-employed teachers who have the experience, list of credentials, and institutional memory to get the job done. They are the ones who have the bruises to boast of. For instance, who would be more reliable in a combat situation: a fresh graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point or a 60-year old veteran of Vietnam, Korea, and the first Gulf war?

    • March 16th, 2010 at 2:53 pm       alicemercer Says:

      Quick response, as I have to leave for my lay meeting with my union…
      First, this is not about individual TFA teachers, but how they are being used to undermine qualified professionals.

      Next, I’ll look at that education next piece, but Laczko is only ONE of the studies, and it was in a peer reviewed journal, meanwhile my Superintendent is quoting a study (Urban Institute) that no peer reviewed journal would touch with a ten foot pole.

      Next, you have to understand the local context. which is what I’m writing about specifically. The pool of available teaching jobs has dried up here, and we have two state universities (and some private ones) turning out teachers. Larry Ferlazzo ( will be addressing that in an upcoming post, but there is NO reason to hire young college grads with no experience AND no training in pedagogy (a critical component with ELLs, SPED, and low performing students) when we have recent grads from ed programs looking for work. In addition, it’s pretty clear to me that they have just laid off veteran math teachers with experience. It doesn’t add up.

      Last, on the issue of how well your program develops teachers, I’ll just point to you Kilian Betlach’s blog Teaching in the 408 ( He is no longer teaching, but that last post has a couple pieces on TFA that point out the internal inconsistencies, and fatal flaws inherent in the program. His blog was the first sign to me of how troubled a prescription TFA could be for the woes of urban education.

    • March 16th, 2010 at 10:57 pm       GeoGuru Says:

      Hey Ms. S, Please do not patronize us “regular” teachers. No need for your rhetoric that “you are sorry about our situation” and that you “lament the loss of any teacher”. Surely our loss is your gain right? Right. Remember your salary and benefits WILL be paid by School District funds, contrary to what other think. That’s why for every TFA teacher that comes in, there is potentially one veteran teacher that has to be um, released. TFA teachers may have all the new knowledge, abstract tools, and so-called “motivation” (heck, even newly hires in Burger King have motivation), but do you think your TFA aptitudes will stand up to a veteran teacher’s real-life experience (read as wisdom), stock knowledge, and natural mojo honed by years of blood, sweat, and tears in the classroom? Go figure. So please, rule number one in the academic community: dont think you are better than anyone and do not overestimate yourself. This simply staunches the flow of learning. Even 20-year veteran teachers admit that they learn something everyday. I like the analogy of Minerva and taking a cue from her, you TFA rookies may be grads of Westpoint, but we battle-hardened grunts graduated from the School of Hard Knocks, literally and figuratively. As you said you TFA guys may be part of the solution but then, by logical extension, you are ALSO part of the problem.


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