End of the Road (For Some)

Another school year has come and gone. This used to be a really happy time of year for me. All of the hard work was done for a few weeks. I could look back and see how much my students have grown over the year.  I could plan with my colleagues what we were going to do the next year. Well, I can still be proud of how much my students have grown. However, planning for the next year with my colleagues is a bit tricky because for some of us, we don’t know if there will be a new year.

For the last three years budget cuts and a significant drop in student enrollment have forced a reduction in force at my school. Three Mays have come and gone in which I did not know who I would be working with in 10 weeks. My school has had a wonderful staff. We have maintained very low teacher turnover. When new teachers come here, they want to stay. It used to be that the only reasons teachers left my school was if they retired, had a baby, moved, or were promoted somehow in our district. No one within the last 8 years has transferred willingly to another school.

My district used to offer short and long term contracts. A short term contract meant the position was yours only for that year and you had to re-interview for it the next year. Long term contracts meant the position was yours and you did not have to re-interview for it. The first year of budget cuts, my district let go of everyone with a short term contract. These were mainly employees who were new to the district and had the least amount of seniority. One teacher at my school that year got caught in a legal loop hole. Her contract was meant to be long term but it said short term. She went ahead and signed it so she could go ahead and work with the understanding that the contract would be rewritten later. It never got fixed and she was one of the first causalities at my school.

The next year, my district let go of everyone with 5 years or less. Most were rehired as natural attrition ran its course over the summer months. Some were transfered to other sites. Most of my friends were in this group so I waited anxiously with them ove the summer to see if they would be rehired. It was a stressful time for them. My school had a third grade opening due to a teacher retiring. One of my good friends who taught first grade at my school decided to take that opening. I had also asked to be considered but my principal did not think it would have been a good fit for me.

This past year, my school enacted a complicated reduction in force (RIF) policy. This policy takes into account certifications, education level, professional development, years of service, attendance record, professional behavior, teacher observations, and student data. All of these factors get ran into a formula and added up. The score is your value in the district. Those with the lowest RIF scores will be let go. My district did divide teachers into groups. K-2 teachers are in one group and 3-5 are in another. Middle school teachers and high school teachers are grouped according to the subjects they teach. They decided to do this because they did not want to decimate an entre population of teachers. I heard that in the previous year, 75% of our high school math teachers were let go because they had not been in the district long enough.

In the elementary level, every principal was told how many teachers to let go. My school had to RIF one teacher. My principal had to look at our student enrollment and see what grades needed teachers. We had fewer students in grades 3-5 than in grades K-2 so that group of teachers was entered into the RIF pool at my site. Every third, fourth and fifth grade teacher had to complete the RIF evaluation and get their score. The teacher with the lowest score was riffed.

Remember my friend who willingly decided to go up to third grade? Yup, she had the lowest score. She could have stayed in first grade and would have been safe this year. If she would not have gone, another teacher would have been forced to go into that position. My friend decided to be a team player and help our school by agreeing to move up to third grade. She was also trying to challenge herself and attempt something new. Now she is forced to transfer to another school. My heart breaks for her. Because of her career choices, she is now being penalized. I know that many other teachers have fallen into this trap as well.

One big thing I’ve learned from all this is to be careful what I sign my name to! I have also learned to not switch grade levels or schools at this time for any reason. If so, I could be next on the chopping block! Is this the message my district wanted to send? Guard your position with your life and never try anything new!



Donnie Dicus

Donnie Dicus

Tucson, Arizona

My name is Donnie Dicus and I have been teaching in Arizona for 12 years. I came to Arizona from Southern Illinois to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson. I graduated in 2003 and began teaching second grade. I taught second grade in Tucson for 8 years before moving to Phoenix. I now teach third grade. I achieved National Board Certification in 2012 and I received my Master’s Degree from Grand Canyon University in 2015. I achieved a National Board Certificate in Middle Childhood Generalist in 2012. I’ve been teaching mainstream and SEI 3rd grade classrooms in the Cartwright School District in Phoenix since 2013. I taught 2nd grade and was a math interventionist in Tucson in the Amphitheater School District. I’ve been a technology coach and have helped teachers apply technology to improve instruction. I facilitate coaching cohorts for teachers going through the National Board process and organize peer groups at my site to pair new teachers with experienced teachers. In 2010 I was nominated as a Rodel Semi-Finalist for Exemplary teaching in 2010 and featured as a Teacher Leader in February 2016 by the Arizona K12 Center.
I have class pictures of every single student I have taught behind my desk on my wall. After 12 years, that is approximately 350 students. My students know that this is my Wall of Accomplishments. I am so proud of the difference I made in their lives. I became a teacher to make a difference and I strive to do so every day.

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