For many teachers, job uncertainty is one of the biggest downsides of their profession.
Recent estimates from the American Association of School Administrators show that about a quarter-million educators could face layoffs in the coming year as states cut education spending in an effort to balance their budgets. That has left many teachers wondering where their next paycheck will come from.
Two of those teachers facing uncertainty are in Los Angeles, where as many as 1,600 teachers and staff may lose their jobs this summer.
Drama teacher Misty Monroe is an itinerant drama teacher. Every day, she visits a different LA school and brings a little art into kids' lives. Despite eight years with the Los Angeles Unified School District, Monroe is no stranger to the layoff notice.
Many school districts are required to send out layoff notices in the spring even if they think they will rehire workers. The school district originally sent out 5,000 notices to educators this year. Often, teachers are "recalled" and get their jobs back over the summer. That's what happened to Monroe last year, but she says the suspense of having unemployment hanging over her head is unnerving.
"The sad part is that morale dips so drastically once the pink slips go out, because the worry begins about family, mortgage, stuff like that," Monroe says.
Whether the cause is budget cuts or shrinking enrollment, some teachers face this prospect year after year. Despite all the hubbub about union contracts and how tough it is to fire bad teachers, junior teachers have little protection against the layoff ax.
Just ask Rohya Prudhomme, who's been teaching in L.A. for four years. Prudhomme gets the same letter every spring. "For the past three years, I've gotten a pink slip every single year," she says.
At her apartment in downtown L.A., Prodhomme pulls out this year's personal communication from the school district. It's not pink, actually; it's just another form letter from a big office.
"As you may be aware, the Los Angeles Unified School District continues to face a dire financial situation" the letter begins, and goes on to express "sincere regret" that Prudhomme is once again on the list of teachers who may lose their jobs.
Prudhomme teaches English at the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, and she considers the job a fulfillment of a dream. It's a big urban school, full of mostly low-income students — just the population she wanted to serve.
Nova Mesa, her supervisor, says it's just a bad time. "You can't blame the district, you can't blame — I guess — the school, necessarily. I just feel like education in the state of California is in dire straits," Mesa says.
Many do blame state laws and union contracts that say teachers must be laid off according to seniority. But many teachers say that ending seniority rights is not the answer. That would just make them feel more insecure.
Prudhomme could search for jobs in other districts. But all are facing budget pressures, and she'd have to give up what little seniority she has. Charter schools are another option she's considering. But she's stuck on her school and on the kids, and she doesn't want to leave. So until school ends later this month, "I teach as though I don't have a pink slip. I teach as though I'll be teaching forever."