Education Opinion

The Pink Slip Club

By Nancy Flanagan — March 19, 2011 1 min read
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I was pink-slipped six times in the first decade I taught--then once more, during the year I was MI Teacher of the Year. By then, I had learned to see a pink slip as ineffectual, contractually mandated paperwork only barely connected to the realities of staffing a school with quality teachers. I was called back in five of six pink-slippings, and spent one year substitute teaching while waiting to return to the classroom.

There were huge cuts sweeping the state during the time I served as MI-TOY. As usual, all the arts and non-core subjects were cut first. No sooner had the pink slip appeared in my mailbox than I got a call from the Detroit News, looking to interview the Teacher of the Year Who Got Cut--a juicy story, for sure.

From that experience, I learned that it’s not smart to promote yourself as “the exceptional teacher who shouldn’t get cut"--because that’s what the Detroit News reporter asked: With all those bad teachers out there, why would they cut the Teacher of the Year? Initially flattering, but based on a dangerous misconception--that the best plan would be to select the “good” teachers and let the others go--who needs ‘em?

These days, the dominant narrative is that test scores should be the benchmark for letting teachers go, achievement data being all we really have--despite huge methodological flaws--to evaluate teaching yada, yada, yada.

Let’s cut to the chase. If school reformers really wanted the best possible teachers in every classroom, they’d select and prepare them carefully, support them diligently on the job and fight to retain them, given the high cost of replacing teachers. If we wanted a dynamic teaching force, we’d strategically invest in one.

Mass pink-slipping is a necessary tactic to alert teachers to the fact that the school is in deep budget distress. But it’s also way to get rid of veteran teachers, especially those whose profiles and voices have risen. From an amazing, tech-whiz teacher in Kansas:

I received my first pink slip about 10 years ago when the first round of budget cuts came through my district. I was over a barrel because they didn't completely cut me--just enough so I didn't qualify for benefits and wouldn't be eligible for unemployment benefits either. It was such a shock because I had just been named Teacher of the Year one year earlier and now I was pink-slipped! Talk about a fall from grace. It was quite a plunge.

Best thing that ever happened to me. Because it made me see how inconsequential I was to everyone but me and my family. Great perspective re-adjuster. Probably the only thing that would ever get through this thick, stubborn perspective I have that makes me oblivious to all that goes on around me, and not good at political maneuvers.
The people who did this were only testing me to see if I'd fold. And what I learned was that it is MY district way more than theirs. Administrators come and administrators go. But teachers are there forever and so are our students.
I made my own way and convinced someone to let me have a job. In the worst building, in the worst grade level. It's taken 6 years, but there's been substantial change and progress. Much more than I could have made in any other building and much more than I would have ever personally made inside myself if I hadn't been cut.

Pink slipped but not dead in the water. I look back and tend to think my pink slip was really the universe shoving me.

It’s easy to take pink-slipping personally. But it’s not all about you. It’s just a symptom of dysfunction in the larger realm of education policy. When we’re serious about funding and staffing schools with the very best, pink-slipping will become an anachronism.

Ever been pink-slipped?

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.