Heather Wolpert-Gawron

The Ten Commandments of a Pink Slipped Teacher

By on March 13, 2011

I recently wrote an article for The Huffington Post that highlighted the history, pros and cons of education’s seniority list. However, little did I know that as I submitted my piece, my own pink slip was in the mail.

The deep budget cuts that are bleeding our schools have unavoidably led to my own RIF notice. A copy of the letter arrived yesterday describing my imminent employment doom. To add salt to the wound, the certificated original arrived today, meaning I now have two copies, presumably in case I should lose one. So despite almost 10 years in the district, my first book coming out this March, and being an award-winning teacher, I will still need to pack up my classroom library at the end of this school year.

It’s rather complicated really. I mean, there’s your hire date, of course. Then there’s some arbitrary points system to break ties between teachers hired on the same date. But when it all boils down, it ends up being about people bumping people bumping people and causing a ripple of realignments that can be felt all along a district’s K-12 spine leaving many of us with no position at all.

After all, our system is set up for teachers to be plug-ins, widgets that are interchangeable. Will the person who bumped me from my classroom be a high school teacher who has never taught middle schoolers because he sees them as just too crazy to be reasoned with, or a 1st grade teacher who has never taught a child with an age warranting anything close to double digits?

Regardless, however, I must admit, that when all is said and done, it isn’t MY classroom. I have shown it love. I have designed it to lure in tweens to the love of learning. But next year someone else will most likely be putting their posters on the walls and mug on the desk. And while I could dwell on this prospect, and get saddened by it, for today at least, I chose to write about it. Because while it’s hard not to look ahead at those who will remain behind in a school I’ve grown to love, the fact is that it’s not productive.

So this post is advice for my readers but also for myself.

The Ten Commandments of a Pink Slipped Teacher

#1 Thou Shalt Not Panic

#2 Thou Shalt Not Take Our Misfortune Out on the Kids, Doing the Best Job we Can Until The Final Day in June

#3 Thou Shalt Not Close Any Doors

#4 Thou Shalt Make All Deadlines of Legal Paperwork to Potentially Keep Yourself in the Game, Even Though It’s Daunting and Depressing

#5 Thou Shalt Not Dwell on How The System is Broken to the Point of Avoiding Your Own Reality

#6 Thou Shalt Not Blame “Them,” Those Who Had Nothing To Do With Your Number on a List

#7 Thou Shalt Be Proactive, Figure Out a Game Plan, and Invest in Yourself

#8 Thou Shalt Find A Job That Appreciates Your Skills

#9 Thou Shalt Remember The Needs of Education When You Are Making the Big Bucks Elsewhere

#10 Thou Shalt Not Forget Those Whose Lives You’ve Changed

Remember to try not to hit a wall of helplessness or anger, because if you were to personify this system, then it would surely win. Instead, toss the wall aside before you slam into it. Better yet, when you see a wall, climb it.

Good luck to you all, and know that there are those out there cheering for you.

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Posted in: Educational Policy
  1. David B. Cohen
    March 13, 2011

    I’m terribly sad to hear this. I know how much you’ve put into your students and school. Your response is the epitome of grace and professionalism.

  2. Ariel Sacks
    March 13, 2011

    Wow. This is really hard to believe. Your professionalism will surely be inspiring to others in the same position. This makes a strong case, also, for teachers to keep honing their other skills, such as writing in your case, so we have possibilities if this should happen.

  3. Mrs4444
    March 13, 2011

    As one middle school teacher to another, I’m sorry to hear this. It takes a special kind of person to teach middle school. You seem like someone who will be missed a lot. That said, you also seem like someone who lands on her feet. As a Wisconsin teacher, you inspire me.

  4. Walter McKenzie
    March 13, 2011

    Heather you’re a class act and a role model for us all. Thank you for sharing your grace and poise in a difficult personal time. I have full faith you will come out the other end of this a winner!

  5. Ernie Rambo
    March 13, 2011

    The news saddens me, because the energy and effort you put into your profession motivates so many of us to continue. Follow the ABC’s of survival and I know that you’ll soon be back in the classroom: Assess the situation, Brew a cup of tea, Create a plan. Enjoy the time with your little ones as you continue to create tsunamis in education!

  6. Heather Wolpert-Gawron
    March 13, 2011

    Thanks to all of you!

    I am so grateful to have such support. Would that every teacher facing this time felt they had such a cheering squad! I’ll keep everyone up to speed via Twitter @tweenteacher. First step: filing hearing paperwork tomorrow and meeting with the CTA lawyers on Wed along with all of the RIF’ed teachers. It’s a toxic environment, but one we have to immerse ourselves in if we stand a chance of retention if the money ever appears again.

    Well, I guess that’s what blogs are for, right?


    • Elizabeth Stein
      March 13, 2011

      It takes great strength to channel feelings of surprise, disappointment, and sadness into positive, responsive, and effective actions. Clearly it’s a strength you possess. No surprise there. I’m thinking about you and all the teachers you empower along the way!

  7. Cindi Rigsbee
    March 13, 2011

    Add one more cheerleader to the group! What an insurmountable loss to your students and your school if you are let go. None of it makes sense, and it keeps me up at night, but I love your positive attitude and your willingness to make a plan. I’d probably crawl under the covers and refuse to come out. You’re inspiring!

  8. Mary Tedrow
    March 13, 2011

    I will add this to the list of things I will be mourning when I wear my black armband on Tuesday as a sign of solidarity with all of my teaching colleagues across the nation. It is a sad, sad day when our hard working teachers and the children they reach everyday must pay the price of the failures of other grown ups. We are all losers when good teachers are pushed out of the work that they love.

  9. Laurie Wasserman
    March 13, 2011

    I am so very saddened to read this 🙁 It breaks my heart that someone as caring and dedicated as you is being told she has to pack up and leave at the end of the year.
    Your Ten Commandments for Pink Slipped Teachers is wonderfully written, and will (sadly) be read and followed by many of our colleagues throughout the country.
    Thinking of you from the East Coast.

  10. Sarah
    March 13, 2011

    Reading this was like reading my own story. I was RIFed last year (for the 3rd time), and it ended up being my last RIF notice. Thanks to budget cuts, I was not brought back. To this day, I miss my middle schoolers. However, I kept my head up and got myself out there. And despite a rocky summer where I planned a wedding while not knowing if I would have a job in September, it all worked out.

    Today I work in a fantastic high school, with amazing colleagues, and a supportive administration. Granted, I sat down in our last faculty meeting praying that the RIF word would not be uttered (it’s stressful being untenured!). But this year my school will not be RIFing anyone.

    You will end up touching students lives again, in another district where they need you. Keep your head up!

  11. Heather Wolpert-Gawron
    March 13, 2011

    Thank you again for all the kind words. My hope is that the post (as Laurie has said) is passed around and can give another teacher the support that all of you have given me. Hearings will happen this spring, and I will definitely be a part of them. I’ll chronicle what’s going on via twitter @tweenteacher so please follow and tune in.

    Who knows what will happen come the fall, whether there will be some kind of rescinding for some of the teachers or all of us will be let go, but I’ll go through the legal process and learn more, I’m sure.

    I’m lucky that I have in place a location to share my experiences, and a network of online neighbors to walk with me wherever the path may lead.

    Thank you again to everyone.


  12. Jennifer Angelo
    March 13, 2011

    Thou shall get a job at a Private School. Any school would be crazy not to hire you. You wrote a book for the love of Pete and started this amazing site. BTW Huffington Post was just bought by AOL or namely Tim Armstrong a lacrosse player from Conn ’93. Take advantage of this connection and see if he can feature your story on AOL as well. I’m so mad I could rip someone a new one! love ya! Come get a job back East. Lots of private schools hiring here and would be honored to have you. Plus – California will take the next big quake. So move out here!!!

  13. Markie Post
    March 14, 2011

    Heather, I had to hear the news several times before I really comprehended it. This is a huge blow, to you, your students, your school, and education in America. You have been trying to make it clear to the layman (like me) with your thoughtful, cogent and often wry entries on your blog that our education system is in great peril, but now it has really been brought home. Follow your commandments, as I know you will, and see what wonders await you. You are a teacher in your soul and our children will not be denied that. As they said in WW II ,’ keep calm and carry on’.

  14. Tim Noah
    March 14, 2011


    I’m stunned by your calmness and generosity in the face of this bureaucratic idiocy. There are not so many Heather Wolpert-Gawrons out there–brilliant, kind, and dedicated teachers– that the public schools can afford to lose even one. That you’re being chased out on the basis of insufficient seniority makes me want to weep.

    You’ll do fine, of course–better than fine. I wish I could say the same for public education in budget-wrecked California.


  15. Mary Anne Lock
    March 14, 2011

    Heather, I not only enjoy your your writings myself, but I have shared them with professionals across the states. You are such the professional, both in the classroom and out. I forget who to credit for this quote, but it seems appropriate here: “If anger and revenge are your journey, you’d better dig a grave for two.” I admire your positive attitude and your integrity more than my words can express!

  16. Randy Neece
    March 14, 2011

    I am in awe of your positive attitude and outlook. I’ve always known you inspired your students with your enthusiasm and passion, but after reading the responses from your fellow teachers across the country, it’s clear your students aren’t the only ones who are inspired. And that goes for me too.
    At the risk of violating Commandment #5, if this isn’t an example of a broken system, I hate to see what is. When you gave me the news the other day I wanted to grab a piece of foamcore, make a sign to express my rage, pack my sleeping bag and camp out at the capital in Sacramento. Thankfully, your 10 Commandments calmed me down, especially since I don’t own a sleeping bag and I’m way too old to sleep on the floor.
    Somehow, I know you’re going to come out ahead and something wonderful will come your way. And we’ll be there for you until it does.

  17. heather
    March 14, 2011

    Hello everyone,
    From here, the question becomes how we can all help teachers to find their niche elsewhere, or to move on, sharing their rich abilities with other professions. Everyone who has commented as been so generous with their support for me, but how can we all help teachers all over this country?

    What are the commandments, or advice, that we can give to teachers beyond this ten?

    -Heather Wolpert-Gawron
    aka Tweenteacher

    • Warren Phillips
      March 14, 2011

      Having taught 35 years in middle school, i have found that their are cycles in education. Sometimes, we are revered as role models. Other times, we are the reason for all problems. We are in a down cycle.
      My advice: Hang in there. One of the greatest advantages of our job is that you can create your own environment. My classroom was the happiest place..(if it wasn’t , that would be my fault!) So, Heather, it hurts me inside to hear about your pink slip. Go out there and find a new happy environment. Put on the blinders and race forward.
      Best of luck. I hope to see you as a colleague in the National Teachers Hall Of Fame! 🙂

    • Elly Faden
      March 14, 2011

      As a newly-credentialed English teacher (who made a career change from high-tech) who will probably not get a job after all, I decided to develop an online portal. The idea is that teachers can put up classes, schools can be formed, tests can be taken, and ideas shared. It’s called schoodl.com.

      I need advice and assistance in figuring out how it can reach teachers, students, and administrators. Please give it a look and let me know what you think. Would this have potential to become a portal for teaching online?

      If anything at all, we can begin putting our lesson plans online, and when we get a job, they will be there for the asking.


  18. Cathy
    March 14, 2011

    I admire your ability to make your situation a teaching/learning experience for all. There are many in my state who will be facing the same situation this spring.
    We must make people understand that this is all about funding cuts and educational priorities in our society. The cuts to education hurt our students immeasurably and our teachers personally. Keep your chin up and your resume polished. I can not imagine you without a classroom of students.

  19. msp
    March 14, 2011

    FYI…I got a pink slip during a final exam last school year. I followed my own version of the 10 commandments and the ones that helped the most were stay calm and find a new job where your strengths are appreciated. That is just what I found and I love it. Principals will be happy to have a dedicated teacher. Its about YOU not the building you are in….

  20. Terry Bosworth
    March 15, 2011


    Thank you for your insightful words as you begin this challenging journey. I am a 16-year teacher at home on medical leave right now (breast cancer surgeries, chemo, radiation) and I have been trying to focus on healing but all of the news of this country’s treatment of teachers is hard to ignore! Your story reminded me of one interview I had with an elementary principal who asked, “What is something special and NEW you can bring to our school?” I did not take a position at that school, but it has always been in the back of my mind to keep skills honed that are “different” than what other teachers have at my school to provide another level of contribution. We all do this in our special ways, but it is “one more thing” on top of “everything.” Is all the stress what brought on breast cancer to five teachers at our school (of 35 women)? I wonder….

    Best of luck to you, Heather. You have so much to offer a school and its students. It sounds from many comments here that being RIF’ed resulted in a much better situation! It happened to me my first year of teaching and I can add to that sentiment! Better days ahead!

    • heather
      March 15, 2011

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. How ironic that in an era of standardization, you are asked for what you bring to the table that is different. It seems that some principals still are looking for innovation even while the system does not.

      Your goal now is to get healthy. That may mean turning off the TV and not watching the toxic degradation of your fellow teachers. We want you healthy and happy and back in a classroom that you love, so focus on that and please check in again to let us know how you, our colleague, is doing.

      Thank you again for sharing and for taking a moment to add some comforting words to another fellow educator.


  21. Kathie Marshall
    March 15, 2011

    Heather, I have been talking about your situation over and over again. At first it seemed it was one of the perils of being in a small district. However, as of now we have 15 new pink slipped teachers this year, going through year 8. This is cutting way too close to the bone. Please know you’ve been in my thoughts, and I continue you marvel as you face this latest storm.

    • heather
      March 15, 2011

      As always, it’s a pleasure hearing from you. What kind words. You tell those RIF’ed teachers to look at themselves frankly, with new eyes and a new way of thinking. Help them to reinvent themselves if necessary, and tell them that the skills that they brought to the classroom are translatable anywhere.

      Thanks so much for checking in.


  22. Bill Ivey
    March 15, 2011

    Heather, I had to take a few days to process this before I could respond. You are class all the way and will fall on your feet. But I’m so sorry it came to this, and not just for you but also for the other Heathers out there in the same situation.

    • heather
      March 15, 2011

      …and as we all know there are other Heathers out there, by the droves. Dedicated teachers with skills and effort and all the things we are told are not in our kids’ classrooms. It’s unfathomable how many wonderful teachers there are out there, just getting their butts and souls kicked to kingdom come.

      Nevertheless, a teacher has innumerable skills, and if our country’s teaching forces could just make lists of their talents and abilities, they just might stand up a little straighter and take their profession by the horns.

      I’m lucky to have the support of so many people. Would that feeling could transfer to others in the same position.

      Bill, it was great to hear from you, and I really appreciate your kind words.


  23. Rachel
    March 16, 2011

    I am in awe of you. I just read your story, and my heart just goes out to you. Our county is facing RIFs, too, so there is much uncertainty. I’ve been teaching 23 years, and I just don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t teach. I love my students so much, and to not be able to work with them daily is just unbearable to think about. May I copy your ten commandments and post them at my computer, pass some out to my co-workers? Or should I just refer them to your Blog? THANK YOU for writing them, although if I were in your shoes, I’d probably jump in the bed and cover up my head! Thank you for being an inspiration. I will hope that your state “finds” the funding and you’ll be back for the next school year! God bless.

    • heather
      March 16, 2011

      Please feel free to print these out, pass them out, refer colleagues here, whatever you feel would be helpful to those who need the advice and the encouragement. Right now, your role is to be that cheerleader, and let them know that their talents can take them into any career that they chose to pursue. Teachers are teachers out of CHOICE, not as a fall back.

      Good luck to them all,

  24. Erin Newell
    March 22, 2011


    I’m so sorry to hear this news. I have been following your blog for a couple of months now, and I continue to be inspired by you. Most of all, I appreciate your down-to-earth, realistic, and positive take on teaching (and life). I admire someone who can assess a problem and figure out a solution. So often my colleagues spend the majority of their day complaining. It’s refreshing to read about someone who thinks positively and attempts to find a solution. I wish you well in wherever your life takes you. And keep the posts coming! Your words always lift my spirits.

    • Heather Wolpert-Gawron
      March 22, 2011

      Not to worry, Erin,
      Comments like yours keep me smiling! Besides, there’s always new ways to invent oneself if needed. After all, if I find myself transferred to a 1st grade classroom, I can always wrote about the similarities and differences between 6 year olds and 13 year olds. Some strategies have to translate, right? Gosh, I hope so or I may have to develop a whole new set of tools!

      Anyway, being proactive is the only way, in my view, of remaining in control of one’s own path. So much happens to us, the teachers, that we have to keep our ear to the ground and our skills sharpened to remain applicable. If it isn’t budget cuts, it will be revamped policies that cause us to rethink our place in the classroom.

      Keep sharp, keep reading, keep commenting, keep learning from all of those around you. I know that I do.

      Take care, and thanks for your kind words.

      -Heather WG
      aka Tweenteacher

  25. Mathew
    March 27, 2011

    I hope it works out for you. We’re dealing with the same thing in LAUSD.

  26. Terry Sofianos
    April 1, 2011

    Heather, I am so sorry to hear about your pink slip. I am completing my 21st year of working in education and received a RIF notice myself (12 years of teaching in a district w/tenure; left and worked combo full-part time in another for 9 years…so I am not tenured now). I am looking for administrative positions as I saw this situation coming a few years back, and I’m finishing up my administrative certification now. I hope to bring my broad and in-depth teaching background with me into a leadership position. I want to tell you that you can definitely teach any grade level you will be assigned…I have taught primary, middle school, and college-aged students as well as worked as a coach from early childhood on up. Good teaching is good teaching…lots of strategies adapt to different grade levels. The key point here is that you are invested in human development and believe in the capacity for all people to learn, whether they are 1st graders, middle schoolers, or adults! Good luck to you!

  27. Mary Perkins
    May 14, 2011

    Heather, what wonderful words and positive thoughts to share. As I read your posting I was thinking of my own position….heading into retirement and how accurate your words are for me as well. Leaving with a positive attitude; doing ‘the work’ right up to the end and not being a slacker; being proactive about what’s important about my work so that someone who has the skills and desire can do it as my team looks at replacing me. Good luck on your journey…someone with your attitude and approach to working with students should surely find a position that will be meaningful…and permanent!

  28. Carolyn Filzer
    May 25, 2011

    Heather, I’m new to your blog but have been impressed…TEN years!! You put a face to the seniority debate for me. Somehow when I’ve thought about it, I’ve thought teachers of four years or less being let go for teachers w/ more your amount of experience. I’ve been RIFfed and was out of education for several years and was thrilled and grateful to have a second chance. I hope that you won’t have to be gone too long.

  29. Shaniqua
    January 3, 2012

    Good day Heather,
    I read your blog just now and I am truly sorry that you were laid off. I hope you will find something more permanent real soon, because it is a tragedy to see good teachers get laid off like that because of budget cuts and stuff. I am from the Bahamas and I’m majoring in education with plans on becoming a teacher myself (by choice). Let me tell you; so many times I have questioned if I wanted to pursue this career because of the hardships I’m facing obtaining this degree. I even doubted if I could truly make it as a teacher. However as I read your blog and read some of your comments, I feel encouraged and motivated to press on to achieving my goals. I know that when I do become a teacher, that the whole journey will be rewarding although difficult. Best wishes to you in the new year.

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