Reduction in Fear (RIF) Notice
As I sit in the faculty cafeteria, I hear the lamentations of the young teachers who recently received the Reduction in Force (RIF) pink slip: ” How am I going to pay my rent, car payment and other living expenses without a job? Well, I guess I have to move in with my parents and postpone my wedding plans.” Their comments take me back to spring 1978 when I was finishing my student teaching at my neighborhood high school. I remember people saying to me, ” You are never going to find a teaching job. Look at the schools that are closing because of low enrollment. Consider a different profession.” That same year Proposition 13, officially titled the “People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation,” was enacted by the voters of California on June 6, 1978 which reduced funding for education.
But I had been determined to become a teacher since childhood. As a child, I used to play teacher with my friends and cousins. Of course, I was always the teacher. In particular, I remember an incident when my grandmother scolded me because I wrote my “teaching lessons” on the dining room wall. Actually, my Yaqui Indian grandmother inspired me to become a teacher because she was born an Indian woman during the Mexican Revolution in Mexico subject to multiple oppressions. She was denied an education and lived her life unable to read or write. After watching my grandmother and others like her be humiliated because of their lack of access to education, I wanted to make a difference and improve the graduation rate for minorities, which at the time was approximately 50-60%.
Ignoring everyone’s advice to change professions and witnessing the closing of schools in my neighborhood, I proceeded to work on my résumé and follow my dreams. I personally delivered my résumé to three neighborhood school districts. I worked as a substitute teacher for two districts in September 1978 and was hired by school district A in October 1978.
Two years later (1980), I received my first RIF notice in March. From March until September, I was very worried because I had four children and our household budget depended on two incomes. The RIF notice was not specific: district A didn’t guarantee me to be rehired or dismissed. I continued looking for a teaching position during the summer at school district B and even went on an interview. When I was ready to be hired by district B, I went to speak to the personnel director at District A and he said to me, “If you show up to work at school district B, I will personally call the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and revoke your teaching credential.” I was rehired at school district A soon after because I was one of two teachers within school district A with a Bilingual/Bicultural Specialist credential and the Ryan Single Subject credential. Because of *Lau vs. Nichols 1974, the bilingual magnet program was established at my high school. Lau was a parent of Chinese descent who sued the San Francisco school board because he felt that his child, who did not speak English, was being denied access to educational programs because his child could not speak English. This was a class action suit brought about by Chinese speaking students in San Francisco against the school district.
In 1982 or 1983 I received my second RIF notice. This time I was not as afraid. District A assured us that the RIF notices in March were only a precautionary/warning to district employees because of State school funding deficits.
I decided to attend graduate school for a master’s in school counseling and to pursue my pupil personnel services credential despite my high school counselor who told me that I would never make it past the first semester at the university. So here I am, the idealist, dreamer, teacher, counselor 31 years later, heart sickened because the drop out rate for minorities is still 50-60%. My consolation has been running into former students who have either become successful in their careers or have made difficult choices in life. For example, some of my students have become teachers, engineers and doctors. One of my students was a soldier in Iraq who came back alive but deaf in one ear. Another student of mine is a gang member whose brother came to deliver me his message from prison that I was going to heaven because I had treated him with respect when he was in my algebra class. They all say, “Remember me? You were my teacher/counselor and I want to thank you.” After 17 years in bilingual education, 1 year as a regular teacher, 13 years as a counselor and currently working at a high school with 98% Latino enrollment, one of my biggest accomplishments this year has been guiding the first two African American students to come through the college office to attend a college and a university. Even though the statistics, the odds, the budget crunch and the confused priorities of the state have not been on the side of education, I along with many other educators remain committed to the hardworking students of all of our communities.
Finally, RIFed teachers, counselors, my advice to you is: Don’t be afraid; follow your dreams and I hope to hear from you in 31 years. I am a baby boomer and will retire soon; there will be a teaching position for you!