Laid off teachers in limbo as legislature debates state budget

Shoshana Keegan (left) and Rosalind Worcester (right), both teachers in Bowman Elementary School's 1st/2nd grade optional program, dress up for a school spirit day. (Courtesy Rosalind Worcester)
Shoshana Keegan (left) and Rosalind Worcester (right), both teachers in Bowman Elementary School’s 1st/2nd grade optional program, dress up for a school spirit day. (Courtesy Rosalind Worcester)

Two hundred twenty five teachers received layoff notices this year from the Anchorage School District, and until lawmakers in Juneau settle on education funding levels for the coming school year, those educators remain in limbo.

The Tuesday before school ended for the year was what’s called a “Field Day” at Bowman Elementary School in Anchorage.

Listen now

Rosalind Worcester, a teacher for the school’s first and second grade optional program, said it’s packed with all sorts of outdoor activities, including – among many other things – a bounce house, giant jenga, and something called the sea sponge relay.

“And it was a beautiful day, of just fun, and dancing with our kids, and being out in the sunshine and eating popsicles, it was magical,” she said. “And then at the very end of the day, right after we took our kids out to the bus and just riding this amazing high at the end of the year, the principal let me know that we had received three pink slips at our school.”

Rosalind, who just wrapped up her second year with the district was one of three teachers at Bowman who received a pink slip that day.

She splits the responsibility of educating a class of 44 first and second graders with her teaching partner, Shoshana Keegan.

Shoshana just wrapped up her third year with ASD, and was spared a layoff notice.

When Rosalind broke the news to her, Shoshana said neither of them knew how to process what had just happened.

“We just sat there,” Shoshana said. “We’re like, one, we are both new teachers, so we’d never been a part of this, we didn’t really know exactly what pink slip meant, we didn’t know the process, we didn’t quite fully grasp everything that goes along with it. And then, two, it’s just like you’re kind of in this weird moment when you’re like, ‘Well, what happens next?’”

This was their first year teaching together, and according to Shoshana, they’ve spent a lot of time together over the past year.

First/second grade optional program teachers Shoshana Keegan (left) and Rosalind Worcester (right) pose in a school photo. (Courtesy Rosalind Worcester)
First/second grade optional program teachers Shoshana Keegan (left) and Rosalind Worcester (right) pose in a school photo. (Courtesy Rosalind Worcester)

“Roz and I call each other ‘teacher bae’ because we spend more time with each other than our significant others most of the time,” Shoshana said.

The pair said they spent a lot of extra hours in the classroom during the first part of the school year – configuring their room, finalizing lesson plans, and everything in between.

It’s those extra hours, and the close relationship between teachers that helps cultivate an environment where students can excel.

Shoshana said when teachers leave the district or are laid off, it not only sets class planning back, but it also makes developing and maintaining relationships with students and their parents difficult.

“Most parents have more than one kid, and so they kind of filter through your class and you’ll have one family for like, seven years, potentially,” Shoshana said. “And so you really get to know those parents and they’re so supportive and so loving and it’s like, our little classroom we’ve built is a little family, but we’ve also got that extended family of their parents.”

For Rosalind, there’s more than her job at stake. She’s also working on her master’s degree. Her final project is creating interdisciplinary units to teach in multi-age classrooms – specifically for the one she worked in this past school year.

“I’m working on creating those to apply in our classroom and then gauge their impact and their efficacy, and if I end up switching schools and grade levels, I don’t know how I can finish my masters project without having to redo several, completely change the project,” Rosalind said.

Regardless of the outcome, Rosalind said she and Shoshana are committed to their students.

On the last day of school, the pair sent each student home with two stamped envelopes. One with Shoshana’s address the other with Rosalind’s, and a note asking the students to write them this summer.

“Send us a picture, send us a postcard, send us a drawing, send us a letter, send us a story, and we’ll write you back,” Rosalind said. “And, I mean, we stand by that, and we signed it ‘Forever your teachers, Rosalind and Shoshana.’”

Rosalind says the sooner a budget is passed, the sooner those who have been laid off can make decisions to move forward, both professionally, and personally.