How to Survive-and Thrive-During Teacher Layoffs

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by All Star Staff

teacher carrying box of belongings after teacher layoffs
teacher carrying box of belongings after teacher layoffs

Tough economic times inevitably translate to budget cuts. And when states tighten their belts, it often means public schools-and teachers-bear a large share of the burden. Needless to say, news about teacher layoffs worries communities across the country, causing stress for experienced and prospective teachers alike.

With all of the pessimism, learning how to differentiate fact from fiction can help you make a plan to keep yourself ahead of the curve.

How School Layoffs Play Out for Teachers

Teacher layoffs come in many different forms, from pink slips that warn you of an impending job loss to straightforward news that your job is gone. As a current or new teacher, you need to know whether the regulations in your state or your school district put you more at risk in a teacher layoff and what avenues are available if you lose your job.

For example, in New York, teachers with the least experience are the first teachers laid off, regardless of their job performance. And USA Today reports some districts back fill lost teaching positions with transferred senior teachers and administrators, so if you are an experienced teacher, your chances of a quick rehire may be pretty good.

Other school districts manage to avoid teacher layoffs through natural attrition. According to Eugene’s The Register-Guard, some school districts in Oregon avoided layoffs by not rehiring the teacher positions that were left open after retirements and resignations brought staff numbers down by nearly 30. In fact, some districts offer teachers an early retirement option to avoid a layoff.

Make Layoffs Work For You

If you are a current teacher concerned about being laid off, you have a number of options that can help you take a school layoff and use it to build your career. And if you are currently a teaching student, concerned about entering the field at such a difficult time, continuing your education for an extra leg up can only help your chances-not to mention enrich your teaching-both now and in the future.

Specialize in a High-Demand Subject

It may seem counter-intuitive that the same districts implementing school layoffs are also hiring. But since certain subject areas are understaffed across the country, some teachers find their talents in demand, even in today’s job market. Generally, school districts place the highest demand on teachers of science, foreign languages, math and special education. For a better idea of what subject areas are in need of good teachers, see our teacher shortage article.

If your passion lies with a low-demand subject, earning an additional teacher certification, or even an advanced degree, in one of the high-demand subjects can help you-as a new or current teacher-increase your job prospects and your job security.

If you are concerned about taking on a tuition bill after losing your job, do some research and you will find a large number of resources to help you secure financial aid for your advanced teacher education. These include scholarships and grants that you do not have to repay as well as money available under the federal stimulus plan.

Relocate, If It Makes Sense for You

While the job market for teachers in general is bleak, the clouds over some cities carry a significant silver lining. In spite of teacher layoffs, many districts throughout the country are actually hiring for a number of teaching positions!

According to the New York Times, school districts have gone from laying off teachers to actually scrambling to hire new ones. California, which lost 82,000 school jobs from 2008-2012, now has to fill 21,500 positions, according to the California Department of Education. And the Rocky Mount Telegram claims that Nash-Rocky Mount public schools, just northeast of Raleigh, NC, had job openings for elementary school teachers, as well as math, science, social studies and music teachers in their middle schools.

Other towns across the country may offer job openings that meet your career goals. If you can relocate to another school district, especially within your own state or a state with a reciprocal certification agreement, you may find a better job market.

Work as a Substitute Teacher

If teacher layoffs claim your job and you can’t relocate, substitute teaching remains a viable option. School districts still need substitutes: teachers get sick, take vacations and require family leave during recessions, too. As a substitute teacher, you will gain versatile experience teaching a wide range of students, from teaching third graders multiplication tables to leading a high school computer class.

Each time you substitute, you have the chance to demonstrate your creativity and excitement as a teacher-and make some money. Most important, subbing allows you to stay in touch with your profession and network with other teachers and administrators. If a long-term job opportunity should arise, your name will be fresh on the minds of administrators who make hiring decisions.

Create an Action Plan for Your Future

Teaching is more than a job: it’s a vocation. You play a major role in the lives of the kids you teach. Relying on the passion that brought you to teaching in the first place can help motivate you to move on to the next phase of your career.

Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, “State Teachers to Rally Against Cuts, Layoffs,”

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