Hearing & My Words

I’m behind, yet again. Not surprised. However, there is plenty to catch up on, which I will do over the next few updates.

As you know from a previous post, the representative from HR and the superintendent visited the schools sharing the RIFs and transfers that were proposed for the upcoming school year. As a TIS, my position was to be cut. I was to be transferred to an elementary classroom, but it was unknown at the time where I would be placed. It didn’t matter to me, as I had already decided at the time that should I be transferred, I would be leaving the district. I desired to continue working with teachers and students on technology and doing the job I so passionately loved. My only consolation to all of this was that the other traveling TIS in the district was transferred, as well as the TSS (technology systems specialist).

As part of being notified of RIFs and transfers, anyone placed on those lists are welcome to request a hearing before the board of education. In the past when I had been RIF’d, I had never requested one. I knew my RIF was simply due to me being low on the totem pole, and that the time would come when I wouldn’t be RIF’d. This time, however, I wanted to make the board aware of what they would be losing. I would go out with a bang, and on my own terms, so I filled out the hearing paperwork and waited.

I was given notification the next week that my hearing would be the evening of February 3 at 6:00 PM. I made sure to tell one of my colleagues, as she had promised to represent the teachers that I work with. In the meantime, I worked on putting together an idea of what I wanted to say to the board and made sure to write down all of the things that I wanted them to be aware of during my speech.

On the night of the hearing, the board was running behind. Instead of being able to speak at 6 PM as I had been told, I didn’t get to speak until 7:15 PM. I wasn’t nervous while I waited. I felt confident and positive about everything, which is exactly what I wanted to portray to the board members that night. As I waited my turn, I thought about all of the changes that would be occurring for me in the coming months. There would be a lot to do- licensure paperwork, job applications, looking for a place to live, etc. I knew it would be a hard road, but I was ready for that journey.

When my turn came to speak, I walked to the podium and pulled my paper out of my pocket. I unfolded it and began to speak before the board. I smiled and let them know all I had done in my time as a TIS, and all that I was proud of having done. At the very end, the board was receptive to my speech, and many mentioned the things they had seen me do in the schools when they had visited. I returned to my seat knowing I had done the right thing. I knew that my hearing would ultimately not matter too much in the end on whether I received my job back, but that was okay by me. I had made my peace.

For those who may be interested, I have copied my speech below. I’ve changed the school names to their initials, but other than that, no other editing was done. Well, except to take out the extra line of gibberish that my cat Kyoko added when she walked across the keyboard.

My name is Rachel Burkett, and I am the Technology Integration Specialist for CBMS and SES. This is my second year in the position. Prior to being a TIS, I taught 3 years at JJCES as a 4th grade
teacher, and 2 years at AES as a 5th grade teacher. I am here today before the Board not to ask that you reconsider hiring my position, but to state the loss that will occur to the students and teachers of the schools I service due to my position being terminated.

Being a TIS puts me in a unique position to get a lot done, especially in the time periods before and after school. Most people don’t realize what a TIS truly does, or how much they can become involved in the day to day lives of the schools they work at. Being a TIS is a job I give myself wholeheartedly to. It is a passion for me, and the work I have accomplished in less than two years at my schools shows this. A TIS isn’t just someone who fixes computers and other issues. No, not at all. If anyone were to believe that was all my job entailed, then I pity them.

In the beginning, I spent more time in my office daily at both schools than I was comfortable with. I was mostly called out to just fix small issues here and there. I hated it. This was not what I signed up for at all. I set about changing what my job was about, and what the teachers should expected of me. I wanted them to forget whatever notion of TIS they’d had in the past. It was time for me to show what a TIS truly was.

At CBMS, I began working with teachers on using new technology within their lessons. Not all were receptive to it, and some still go their own way. That’s okay because I have slowly increased
options for other teachers. I will sit and work with a teacher who only has a basic idea for a lesson plan, and together, we’ll turn it into a full-scale lesson plan. Not only that, but I’ll often help co-teach with them throughout the lesson to provide the support they need. If they’re uncomfortable being on their own and teaching the technology, no problem. I’m there for them. Teachers
feel more comfortable trying to integrate technology because they know they have my support with them all the way.

CBMS is soon to have 1:1 devices in the 6th grade. This is an amazing concept, and one that I would love to see pan out. I was put in charge of developing the implementation plan, and my technology team from the school helped me work out any snags and provided their own suggestions and feedback. Not only did I create the plan, but I developed a handbook for both teachers and students. Between my team and I, we are ready to go. However, the worry for next year is that there won’t be someone to manage the day to day business with the laptops. There won’t be someone to provide the support the new teachers will need, and the refreshers the old teachers will want. That’s
extra staff development sessions. Sure, you can easily ask the technology team to do it. However, they’re classroom teachers first and foremost, and that’s asking them to take time from an already busy schedule.

At SES, I have volunteered to help teachers in a different way. As a team, we have discussed the needs for students, and the lack of computer knowledge. To help fill this gap, I volunteered to teach classes that integrated computer skills with other real world concepts. It’s definitely not required of me, but something I wanted to do for the students. I see every classroom once a week, and even visit the preschool classroom when I can. On top of this, I still provide the daily fixes in the background, and manage the key card entry system for the cafeteria doors.

Earlier I mentioned being able to get more done in the periods before and after school. As a TIS, I don’t have the usual morning and afternoon prep that a classroom teacher would have. Instead, I chose to provide students with opportunities they’d not had before. I started a variety of clubs- SES Coder Kids, Bobcat Coders, and even a Jr. FIRST Lego League team. I wanted to bring computer science into the schools with the first two clubs because it is a huge career field and one that provides many skill sets for students, even those who never pursue it as a career. Students learn to problem solve and think critically, and they learn failure is okay. SES Coder Kids has just over 100 members in K-5 now at Slanesville, or nearly half of the school. Bobcat Coders has about 25 students. Next year, both of these clubs will be disbanded. If I accepted my transfer to the classroom, I wouldn’t have the time anymore to run them. My time would be spent on other things required of me. It’s certainly a shame, but it cannot be helped.

My after school time wasn’t just used with students though. No, it was also used to the benefit of teachers. I was able to offer a variety of staff development sessions in areas of technology. Last year I offered 5 different staff development sessions. This year I have offered 1, with 3 more on deck this month and next. Even though I never had very large attendance, I wanted to make sure that there were technology options available for staff during the school year in the district.

I am proud of what I have accomplished as a technology integration specialist, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the teachers and students I have worked with in the short time I have been given. My letter of transfer states that my TIS position
is to be cut, and I am to be placed into an elementary classroom next year instead. It saddens me to see that, but I do understand the budget cuts and issues the county is having. With that said, I hope the county will understand when I say the classroom is not the place I yearn to be. I am very passionate about technology and the job I love so much. It is the field where I belong, the place where I can make an impact on so many others, both teachers and students. It therefore makes perfect sense to me to seek the job I love elsewhere, and thus, I will be leaving the district at the end of the school year. I want to do what I love best, and I won’t settle for something less. Thank you.

Potential Change and My Thoughts

My job is in jeopardy. I’ve known this since November.

The county is facing budget cuts. 20 professional personnel need to be cut, and about that many service personnel as well. There will be plenty of transfers and RIFs this year. Unlike in the past though, the chances of being rehired after a RIF will be minimal, if one gets hired back at all. We’ve all heard the reasons from the superintendent about why the cuts must occur. Enrollment across the county is declining. There are more homeschooled
students, and quite a few students who have crossed borders into other counties and even states to attend school. Our county is not the worst off when it comes to having to make cuts, but cuts of this magnitude are going to have an impact on morale. Already my middle school has lost a staff member. He was in his first year, knew he would likely be cut. He was also making a long commute…and that’s when he didn’t stay overnight at the school. So he cut his losses and got a job back home teaching instead.

Most of my followers know my job is the technology integration specialist (TIS). I work between an elementary and middle school during the week. It’s my job to help teachers integrate technology into their lessons. I bounce ideas, find resources, co-teach, and more. I teach students how to use the technology they’ve been given. I voluntarily teach computer classes at the elementary school. I love my job. It’s where I feel that I belong, and where I feel that I make the biggest impact on the student population. I also run a few clubs- a coding club at the middle school, a coding club at the elementary school, a Jr. FIRST Lego League team, and a sport stacking club at another elementary school. I am often busy. I love what I do. It’s where I feel that I need to be.

And yet, come next week (or so they’ve told us), I may find that my position is cut. I was the last TIS hired so I would be the first one RIF’d. They could transfer a TIS into my position, or just not fill it. My job is not federally funded, so it can easily be one of the first to go. I am in my 7th year in this county, and so what they would most likely do if I lost my job is to transfer me back into a classroom position.

“You’ve got enough experience, right? You’ll be able to still have a job! They’ll just put you back in the classroom!”

I hear the above statement more often than I’d like. It frustrates me a bit, and my reply gets a bit passionate. I’ve also been told that last bit as well. Let me explain my thoughts.

I don’t want to be back in the classroom. I don’t watch the stress and pressure, and the job that meant often working beyond the school day just to be somewhat on top of things. I wasn’t completely happy with it after a time. I wanted to do something else. I got my masters degree in integrating technology and then my TIS certification because I wanted to do something different in the education field. I love technology, always have. In college
there was even a point in my first year that I thought about switching to computer science, but didn’t. I attributed that thought to homesickness at the time, but part of me does wonder what that would have led to…

Anyway, back to the original point. I want to work with technology and teachers, as well as students. I feel like I have a chance to make a wide impact in my current job, and I know I do. I get to work with so many types of students and teachers. I get pushed to my limits coming up with ideas to suit a variety of types of teachers. I am constantly required to rethink my ideas when something doesn’t quite pan out the way it seemed like it would in
my head. Try, and if I fail, reflect and try again. I love working with a huge range of students too. From preschool to 8th grade, I have to constantly change my way of teaching. It’s interesting to think about, and tough to do sometimes. Because I am not tied to one school or one classroom with all the responsibilities, I can offer more things for students outside of the usual school curriculum. I have more time for something like that. I have my clubs. I love my clubs, though I’m ending one of them at the end of the year, possibly two. My coding clubs will stay though. That is, as long as I have a job for next year as a TIS. If I don’t, they’ll all have to end, and that would break my heart.

So what will I do if I lose my job, and find myself transferred back into the classroom?

I plan to leave the district. I plan to cross the state border and go find work in Virginia in a similar technology position. I don’t care where yet at this point. I would like to be somewhat close to my girlfriend though. I have looked at what different technology jobs seem to be in that state, and so my next step if I lose my job would be to look into transferring my license to the state and start seeing what potential jobs I can find. It will be a long road if this all occurs… I’d have to move and everything. But if my path is meant to change, then surely there’s somewhere out there that truly needs me.

If nothing changes, then I will keep my job and stay here for at least one more year. It’s all up in the air though. I can’t predict the future or what will happen. All I know is that my path will lead me where I need to be.