By Cassandra McGrath | L.A. Weekly
published: August 20, 2009(February)
I’m standing in the main office next to my empty mailbox slot, waiting for my pink slip.
“Has the mail come yet?” I ask the desk attendant.
“Not yet,” he says.
“Oh. When do you think it will come?”
“I don’t know. In an hour or so? It’s unpredictable.”
“Are you getting a pink slip?” I ask.
“I don’t know. You tell me,” he says.
Everyone knows that LAUSD is laying off approximately 3,000 teachers and employees, but no one seems to know when, or who, or if it’s even going to happen at all.
A mother wearing lots of eyeliner wanders in looking confused. This is fairly common in a public middle school with more than 2,000 students.
“My daughter was tardy today. Do you work here?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I’m not sure.”
“How’s your semester going?”
Another teacher is shouting at me from across the parking lot, where she’s crouched under the hood of her car. We’re next to the soccer field, and the unsettling sound of a ball smacking against a chainlink fence is giving me a headache.
“Okay. You know, besides the specter of doom,” I say.
“I heard it was just elementary school teachers,” she shouts back, and crosses her fingers high up in the air so I can see. We both know this is not completely true, but I smile and nod anyway.
“What’s wrong with your car?” I ask.
“I don’t know, exactly. Do you know anything about carburetors?”
In a desperate bid to seem like an irreplaceable employee, I suggest the school conduct its first annual talent show. The principal seems confused.
“Do you have a talent?” she asks.
“Oh, well, it would be for the students.”
“Yes, but do you have a talent?”
“I can whistle really well,” I say, resisting the urge to do the piccolo portion in Stars and Stripes Forever.
“We should have a staff talent show,” she says, ruminating on this idea.
“Oh, well, I was thinking it could be a student show, like a school fund-raiser.”
“We’ll have enough money for stuff next year, so that wouldn’t really be necessary,” she says. “Maybe not enough for people but for stuff.”
“At my old school, the whole math department and the English department got pinked,” my co-worker says casually in the hall. I’ve never heard it described like that: “getting pinked,” like getting a contagious disease. Like pinkeye or chlamydia.
“Really? Everyone got pinked?” I ask with a shudder, envisioning thousands of bloodshot eyeballs winking in the night.
“Yep. I was positive I could get you a job in South-Central, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen.”
While I am erasing my white board after school, one of my sixth-period students, a boy with glasses and a high-pitched voice, wanders in and asks, “Are you one of the teachers who got a pink slip?”
“Actually, yes,” I say.
“Oh. That sucks,” he says. “Is the pink slip actually pink? It would be cool if it was blue. Or green. That would be even cooler.”
The tiny air-conditioned room in the Harbor Building on Wilshire is filled with first- and second-year teachers, sitting in a circle. Most of us look fairly young. A grumpy first-year sitting next to me wrinkles his nose and smacks his gum.
“You got any more of that?” I whisper.
“This is nicotine gum,” he snaps back.
The facilitators of our “new teacher” group are two veteran teachers. One has frosted hair. She smiles beatifically and holds up a pink stone in the shape of a heart.
“Normally, we would go around and describe one challenge we have faced in our classroom recently,” she says. “This time we’re going to pass the stone around and ask if anybody got a pink slip.” She passes the stone to her right.
“I got mine yesterday,” the first teacher says.
“I think I’m getting mine tomorrow,” the next one says.
Nearly everybody in the room has received a pink slip.
“I got mine already,” another teacher says. “My two worst students walked out in protest, and they told me, ‘Mister, we’re doing this for you.’ ”
My mother calls me. “UPS came to drop off your pink slip. No one was here, so you have to pick it up at the post office.”
“I don’t want to pick up my pink slip at the post office.”
“You have to, or they’ll get mad.”
“Who cares! I already got the pink slip.”
A senior teacher at my school advises me to fill out a union form disputing my pink slip. The form requests a hearing with a lawyer and an explanation of my dispute. I write, “I received a pink slip which I do not believe I deserve.” I don’t think I’ll win my case.
One of my students comes by to say hello after school. She seems sad. “You shouldn’t be a teacher, Miss,” she says very sincerely. “You are too good for this job. You should be on America’s Next Top Model.”
“I don’t know about that,” I say.
“Yes!” she says firmly. “Go to the tryouts and you’ll get on. They have them in L.A I have confidence. I’ll see you there. I’ll be watching on the CW.”
“I just wanted to say thanks for a great year,” I tell my second-period class on the last day of school. This is only sort of a lie. One stocky girl named Jessica waves her hands in the air and shrieks, “Stop it, Miss! You’re making me cry!” Jessica has not turned in a single homework assignment all year. She is pinkeyed, and mascara is dripping down her face.
“Miss, don’t go,” another girl pleads. “Where are you going, anyway?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll travel the world,” I say.
There is silence.
“But I’ll miss you guys,” I add.
“We’ll miss you too!” the class chimes in.
Jessica raises her hand, brandishing a Sharpie. “And Miss, can you sign my T-shirt? I don’t want to forget about you.”
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