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Workshop helps laid-off teachers tackle job uncertainty

Workshop helps laid-off teachers tackle job uncertainty

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LaTonya Harris 2007 file
LaTonya Harris, right, seen here in 2007, left a 14-year career with the Illinois Army National Guard because she and her husband decided it was time for her to follow her dream and become a teacher. (Pantagraph file photo/STEVE SMEDLEY)

NORMAL — LaTonya Harris left a 14-year career with the Illinois Army National Guard because she and her husband decided it was time for her to follow her dream and become a teacher.

The 39-year-old mother of two children, ages 9 and 11, is in her first year teaching at Normal Community West High School, where she has developed a special bond with her Regional World Studies, reading and special education students. She has spent many late-night hours doing all the extras that dedicated, new teachers do, and she has received plenty of positive feedback from administrators and others at her school.

Now she is about to be laid off and doesn’t know if she will be recalled in the fall.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” said Harris, who is among 120 first-year teachers in Unit 5 schools who have received reduction-in-force notices.

“I love my job. I’m holding out hope I can come back,” Harris said.

To prepare for whatever the future brings, she and about 40 other teachers attended a workshop offered by the Regional Office of Education for DeWitt, Livingston and McLean Counties on Tuesday. That was the same day Gov. Pat Quinn rolled out a budget plan that proposes deep cuts in education spending.

State school officials previously predicted 17,000 school employees may lose their jobs for the upcoming school year. Locally, most school districts in the three counties have issued RIF notices to about 10 percent of their teachers, officials said.

Teachers who receive RIF notices may be recalled if districts can fund their jobs, which often are tied to state and federal grants, next school year. However, some districts say it is likely more than half of them won’t be brought back.

So on Tuesday they received tips for coping with the uncertainty.

Ben Matthews of the Unit Five Education Association talked to them about the rights of non-tenured teachers in RIF situations. They also were told how to update their certification and credentials.

The workshops for new teachers are offered periodically, but dealing with layoffs was timely for this session, said Regional Superintendent Mark Jontry. He said a second such workshop will be offered if more teachers show interest.

“We are going to lose good teachers,” said Diane Stempinski, director of professional development at the regional office.

It’s tough to see, she said. The new teachers are buying new houses, having babies and counting on their jobs, she said.

“You have to be mentally strong,” Stempinski said.

Teaching is a rare profession in which people are told they are losing their jobs but are expected to keep working for three more months. Teachers worrying about how they will pay their bills next year still have to focus on the kids, she said.

“It’s very tough on our administrators as well,” she said. “They’ve picked the best of the best, cultivated them for a year, and now have to lose them. It’s hard on the psyche,” she said.

“What does a teacher do now? They sit and wait — and hope,” Stempinski said.

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