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Surplussed...or How I Became an Involuntary Transfer

Andrea Littell, NEA Member

“Involuntary transfer,” “lateral transfer,” “voluntary transfer season.” Still reeling from the suddenness of getting laid off from my elementary school reading support position, I was introduced to these new terms in a loud, crowded high school cafeteria. Peering hard to see the PowerPoint presentation that was blotted out by the light streaming in through the cafeteria windows, I felt confused and anxious, and looking around at the other teachers in the meeting, I saw I was not the only one.

My Dream Job

I became a teacher relatively late in life, at around age 40. My husband is a teacher, and when we decided to have kids I began a master’s program in elementary education. I liked the teacher’s schedule and having vacation time with my family, as well as the idea of working with children. In my previous career, I managed academic exchange programs with the former Soviet Union, working long hours, traveling, only two weeks of vacation. Becoming a teacher seemed like the ideal midlife career change.

I was not hired right out of graduate school (too old, perhaps?) and taught kindergarten as a long-term substitute for almost a full year. That experience convinced me that I did not want to be a full-time classroom teacher. In August of 2006 I was fortunate to get my dream job: a half-time academic support position in a school with a high percentage of disadvantaged students.

Since I work in an academic support position rather than as a classroom teacher, each year I have to justify my position. I write a paper describing what I do and the impact it has on my students, including data that demonstrates their academic progress. This year my principal indicated that it would be more difficult than usual to defend my position because of the county’s budget constraints, so I took extra care writing my report. After a few tense weeks, my principal informed me that my job was safe.

Involuntary Transfer

The next week, the principal called me into his office again to say that he had made a mistake; HR had informed him that my position must go to another person at the school who had seniority. Her position was eliminated, so HR placed her in my position. My principal was very kind and apologetic, assuring me that my being placed on the involuntary transfer list had nothing to do with my job performance and offering to call other principals on my behalf. I was very upset anyway, and left the building in tears. It was an extra shock because I had been so relieved just a few days before to hear that I could stay in my job.

A few days later, I attended an information meeting for “involuntary transfers” in the cafeteria of a huge high school. There were about 30 other elementary teachers at the meeting. Two women from my school district’s Employee and Retiree Service Center (ERSC) spoke about the procedure and schedule for applying for openings within the school system. It seemed complicated, and as I looked around the cafeteria I noticed the same sense of bewilderment I was experiencing reflected in my colleagues’ faces. I kept thinking to myself, “How many years has this been happening, and why haven’t they figured out how to make this whole process less confusing and distressing?”

Shouting over the noise of the high school students mingling about the cafeteria, the ERSC representatives explained that the job fair for involuntary transfers occurs over 3 hours on a single day. Calling principals to set up job fair interviews was only permissible on 3 specific days. One ERSC employee told me that a lot of people would be calling principals during the morning of the first day that we are allowed to call, so I should try to get someone to cover my classes that morning to allow myself to be free to make phone calls. That seemed so ridiculous, and certainly not in the best interest of my students!

The written instructions supplied by ERSC were puzzling. I think they were telling me that there is one window of time that is open for involuntary lateral transfers to interview for jobs, another window of time for voluntary transfers or people wanting to make nonlateral moves (those desiring to change their positions or hours, or just wanting to move to a different school), and then the window for involuntary transfers opens again.  I might have this all wrong—after two hours at the meeting I still felt dazed and confused! 

As always happens with meetings of this sort, much of the time was spent answering questions that pertained only to the asker’s specific circumstance, like, “I am a French immersion teacher coming back from leave. Can I just stay on leave because there are no French immersion jobs that I want?” A high school art teacher wanted to know if she could apply for elementary school positions and still remain a lateral transfer, a teacher with counseling qualifications wondered how he could go from one position to the other—each situation was different.

The ERSC employees did their best to address everyone, but sometimes the answers only left us more perplexed. Before I left, I spoke privately to one of the ERSC employees about my specific situation; she was very kind and helpful and said, “Look at this as an opportunity!” Easy to say, and it is what I am trying to do, but it is hard because I love my current school and job.

Speed Dating

When I got home, I checked the job vacancies database and found only two positions that matched my current hours (half-time) and content area (reading). I called those schools first thing in the morning on the first day we were permitted to call, and set up interviews at the job fair. I also called about two full-time academic support positions, even though I was not sure about my eligibility for full-time positions (is that a nonlateral transfer?), and a less than half-time .4 position, which means I would lose my benefits. It was not difficult getting through to most schools and I was able to set up four interviews for the job fair. Some schools requested that I send a cover letter and resume in advance.

The job fair was held in an enormous, three-story high school. Candidates had to scurry around the school, searching for the right room for their interview. The school was so big and the rooms were not always in the logical place according to their room number, so we were all rushing around like crazy: lost, late and panicking. Each interview lasted about 20-30 minutes, and then it was time to race around to find the next room, sit down with a new panel of interviewers and try to be at my best. I kept thinking that this is what speed dating must be like.  

A New Opportunity

At the end of the evening, I felt fairly positive and excited about moving to a new job and school. The positions I interviewed for sounded interesting and challenging. Also, a colleague reminded me that whoever has my current job next year will be working in the guided reading room, really just an overcrowded, dark, windowless closet. That confirmed my sense that it is time to move on! Remembering the ESRC representative’s words of wisdom to me, I am now looking forward to embarking upon a new opportunity in September. After all, each new school year presents a teacher with fresh challenges and exciting possibilities, no matter which school is yours.

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