Career Transitions

Turning chaos into careers.

Surviving the Teacher Layoffs

If you can't teach, what can you do?

Teacher layoff announcements are dominating the news these days. According to the Wall Street Journal, 6100 teachers may be laid off in New York City. The Los Angeles Times reports more than 5,000 teacher layoffs. Even my city of Austin isn't exempt from the national trend: according to the Austin American Statesman more than 1000 positions are to be eliminated from the Austin Independent School District.

After any layoff, emotions run high. Some wonder what they can do now. Where can one work when everyone is laying off workers? Some may fear they will never work again. Here are some action steps you can take:

1. Know that you're not alone. This is a nationwide trend. Start making plans now to stay in touch with fellow teachers (unemployed or not) for support. Consider forming a job club where you can share job leads or helpful suggestions. Local book stores or libraries often have spaces to meet-- particularly if you talk about job search books.

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2. Take advantage of any help offered by your employer. In some cases, consulting firms are brought in to assist during a layoff; check with your human resources office and find out if any workshops or programs will be offered. If you are in a union, check with your union leader regarding any job-seeking assistance they might have.

3. Take care of yourself. Try to follow a healthy diet, exercise and take vitamins. Take time to relax. Practice mindfulness meditation. Schedule any medical appointments while you still have your full health insurance coverage. Your immune system is under stress and you don't need to deal with additional health issues while trying to find a job.

4. Get your finances in order. Put away every spare dollar. Try to build your savings to give yourself a cushion. Cut back on unnecessary expenses until you know what your financial situation will be. Within a week of being laid off, contact your unemployment office and file for any unemployment benefits you are eligible to receive.

5. As hard as it may be, choose to handle the layoff with grace. Handle your emotions off the job. Find sympathetic and supportive friends. Ask for help. Tell people you need to hear a good word.

  • You can express your disappointment or regret that you can't continue teaching, but this is not the time to tell your employer everything that was wrong with the school or the system. Don't behave in a way which will get you fired or result in a negative recommendation. You need to preserve any benefits you might have accrued, and you will likely need recommendations from your employer. In addition, if the school starts to hire again, your behavior during this process will be noted.
  • It never hurts to ask why you were laid off. In some cases, the reason is neutral: the school might have a last hired/first fired philosophy. It might be a financial decision, as when a school is closed. This is important to note, so that when you interview with a future employer this will put your situation in perspective.
  • If you suspect there might be another reason, ask. This is not a time to argue or debate their opinion of your performance; rather it is a time to listen to their concerns. Is there a grain of truth? Can you see their perspective? While it's never easy to hear criticism, if you take it constructively and adjust your behavior in the future, it can help.

6. Give yourself time to adjust emotionally to the situation. Feelings of anger, embarrassment, shame, despair, and frustration are normal. Allow yourself at least a few days to adjust to the situation. When you're ready, though, start looking at what's next.

7. Get ready for the job search. Whether you realize it or not, you do have a job: your job is to find a job. Job-hunting is a full-time endeavor and you need to take it as seriously as you took your teaching position. Update your resume. Ask your supervisor and/or colleagues if they will serve as a reference for you. Set up a LinkedIn account, and take advantage of the resources on Twitter.

8. When you're ready to start looking ahead, start with a basic question: Do I want to return to teaching? This is the time to be honest with yourself-- you have a broad spectrum of choices. If you choose to remain a teacher, where will you find a new position? Do you have reason to believe your school might rehire you? Do you need to move to another location? Take some time to analyze your last few years on the job. What did you enjoy most about it? What are you (perhaps secretly) happy to let go? Do you like the geographic area in which you live or is it time to move?

9. What other careers did you consider before going into teaching? Would it be worth exploring those fields again? If you taught in a specialty area have you considered careers directly related to your field? If you taught physical education, for example, would you enjoy a career as a personal trainer?

  • Most teachers entered their profession because they enjoy learning, want to help and influence  others, and are eager to share their knowledge. Many other careers tap into these desires including higher education administration (such as admissions or alumni offices), public relations, publishing/writing, sales/ marketing, nonprofit administration, and training/human resources. In addition, private schools, tutoring programs, and other educational entrepreneurial ventures are a possibility. This might be the time to start a new business based on your knowledge of the needs of children-- particularly needs that will now not be met by the school system because they are too short-staffed.

10. Finally, take advantage of the myriad resources available to job seekers. If you're transitioning to a new career, consider yourself in an information gathering phase. Take time to research your new field of interest thoroughly.

  • Dr. Martin Seligman's website, Authentic Happiness, offers several free tests related to careers. Try taking the VIA Survey of Character Strengths to learn your top five strengths.

Here are some books job seekers have found helpful:

Find me on Facebook and Twitter. Copyright 2011, Katharine Brooks

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Katharine Brooks, Ed.D., is the Executive Director of the Office of Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University. She is the author of You Majored in What?

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