Erin Chawla: The Kiducation Learning Curve


Why Your Child's School Is Losing Great Teachers

Apparently, I'm Not Necessary

So, I have been declared surplus to my school again.

This has happened to me many times in my years of teaching and I’m quite sure will happen to me again.

Good teachers keep losing their jobs, and it’s affecting your kids’ education. 

Here’s the process as it stands in the Toronto District School Board. Every year the purposed enrollment numbers are released for a particular school. These numbers, based on current enrollment, new students entering kindergarten in September and the amount of families coming into an area with school-aged children, allow the government to give a teacher allotment to a school. “You have 526 purposed students and your school shall be allowed 26.5 teachers.” Although these particular numbers are a fabricated example and the formula is slightly more complicated based on Special Education students, socioeconomic groups and a few other factors, the 0.5 situation is very common. That means often full-time teachers are offered half-time positions and must find another half-time position at another school if they want to continue to work a full-time job.

Once that number is given to a school, the principal must cut as many teachers as required. In my school this year that means five teachers are losing their jobs. The decision about who has to go is based purely on seniority. There are no allowances made for teachers with specialized skills, nor are the decisions based on teacher performance. If you’ve been teaching longer than me, you will be saved and I will go.

I am far from a new teacher, but depending on the “career age” of the staff, I’ve seen teachers with 15 years seniority fall victim to the surplus. And so, once again this year, I have been declared unnecessary at my school and must find a new position elsewhere. 

The process involved for finding a new teaching job is a lengthy, convoluted experiment in persistence and luck. There are three rounds of job postings that we must scramble to apply and interview for, often with hundreds of applicants for each job. Principals are required to interview at least five candidates, even though they often have a particular candidate in mind for the job. Just last week I sat outside an interview overhearing the principal offering the applicant before me the job. Clearly in that case, my interview was just to fill out the numbers.

If the surplus teacher is unsuccessful in securing a job at the end of the three rounds, they are placed in whatever positions are left needing to be filled. This means that the teacher may be placed anywhere in the large board and in any role they have the qualifications for. Which also suggests that many teachers will be unhappy with their placements.

And how does this affect your kids? Firstly, there is a lot of stress involved as the multiple rounds of hiring and subsequent placements take over a month to complete. Also, potential postings come out at 9 am on a particular day, meaning that teachers are trying to teach their class, occupy their students in a meaningful way, while looking at job listings and sending out applications. Interviews are held before or after school, which may require teachers to leave school early or arrive late. Interview times may also leave teachers scrambling for last-minute childcare, as is the case with me. Basically, during this process, a teacher’s mind and attention cannot be as fully directed towards the class as it could be.

I fulfill a particular specialized teaching role in my school, as I have in each school I have been in. One part of my role involves a great deal of training on software that assists us in completing the mountains of paperwork that are required for special education students. A school provides release time (meaning they have to hire a supply teacher) for someone like me to attend a multitude of trainings and workshops.  It is unfortunate when that person (um, me!) becomes surplus as the school then has to complete the training process all over again with the new person in the role. Clearly, it would be better for students if the well-trained teacher could stay put, rather than having a revolving door of teachers who are new to the role.

In a Special Education classroom, I often work with students who are particularly sensitive to disruptions in programs and have anxiety regarding change and unknowns. Due to this process of declaring teachers surplus, many of these students don’t know who their teacher will be next year. Families are unsure how programs will run under new direction. The rapport that I’ve built with kids and families is lost and I start all over again in a new school.

There are some advantages from being moved around a lot. I have been been able to see many different approaches to education. I’ve met so many great teachers and been able to use several of their ideas in my own lessons. I’ve had to be flexible and a team player, as I’m often the newbie in the school. I have learned a lot and become an expert at handling change. 

But, now I tire of all this turmoil. I'm tired of being told I'm unnecessary. It’s time for me to settle in a school and stay put for a few years.

I know that school boards need to use their employees effectively and ensure that there is an equitable distribution of teachers among the many students. I do think a strong case can be made to not have teachers in specialized roles or those delivering Special Education programs become victims of surplus — but then again, if my job gets saved it would just mean I’d bump the next person up the seniority list, so either way someone would lose their job. Maybe it would be fair to limit the number of times this can happen to a person in their career. There must be some sort of simpler, less time-consuming, less stress-producing process to make these changes.

In the meantime, here I am, blowing in the wind again, waiting for the dust to settle so I can get back to the job of good teaching. Fingers crossed that my skills and passions will be put to good use somewhere next year.

If you enjoyed this post and want to find out why Erin Chawla does this job see Why I Became a Teacher.  To read about why she keeps on laughing throughout her workday see How Laughter and Fun Encourages Learning.