Monthly Archives: March 2012


There are few acts of worship through which I can connect with the almighty better than taking the creations of men and basking in the creation of God.

Through the use of the iPod and the symphony, the experience of a full moon and a long walk becomes spiritual.

For a long time now, it’s been easy for me to connect with God in places of awe: The Pacific; Joshua Tree Nat’l Park; Mountains of Eastern KY or NC. It’s always been a struggle to find the connection in the Midwest.

One of my challenges is nearly conquered. When I’m bitter about living in Ohio, I’ll remember the night walks under the full moon; the newest addition to my list of things that leave me centered and right with the universe.


Reduction In Force.

The State of Ohio calls it “Suspension of contract due to reduction in force.” I was served the papers today. Pink slipped. Only the paper was white and very formal and serious looking.

At any rate, it mostly spells unemployment for me, something I’ve never had in my post-college adult life. Several friends of mine have been through it and one large family I know of has been through hell because of losing a job.

I was told by my human resources director, who strangely enough was the same principal who hired me in 2004. He was having a stressful time delivering the news, and I know I wasn’t the only one affected. A principal and the union president was in there with me. They all tried to make it go down easy, telling me their primary goal was to see that I was left in good hands.

The RIF list must be approved by the school board in April, and after that time there may be some surprises, perhaps another music teacher retiring or someone deciding to resign, in which case all this will be for nothing and my employment will continue without a hitch.

At any rate, my current contract expires in late June and my pay cycle would ensure that I have a regular check up to somewhere around Labor Day. So I have some time to plan and save. Imagine if I was told to pack up and not come back on Monday? What if I was handed a check and shown the door? That has happened to many, so I count myself as fortunate.

I am subject to a callback period of 16 months, in which case if someone retires or quits in the music department, I’ll be the first one offered a position. But I’m left with the questions, “Do I really want to go back?” “Do I want to work in a school where the teachers are often let go because of the formal procedures that are based on non-performance criteria?”

I have an obligation to provide for my family, so if a callback occurs and I’m not doing anything important, I’ll jump at the chance. But this is a wide open door for me at this point. What on Earth could be out there that a music teacher could morph into? I have a list of about 7 or 8 part-time activities I could get myself into. It’s at this point where I think there’s something so far outside the box waiting for me, that I’ll hardly remember there’s a box once I achieve it. Maybe it’s wishful thinking.

So here goes a new page, a new chapter into uncharted waters. I pray to God that this is part of his will and that the growth I experience through it will fulfill something bigger. I know it will, I know the bigger picture will be positive, I just hope that the suffering required to get there will be bearable.



Life is good.

Just like that, my ten year teaching career is over.

Well, not exactly. I still have to be handed the papers. I still have to receive the pink slip. After seven school years, I’ve been told by the head principal to expect a RIF letter (Reduction in Force) tomorrow. I do not have enough seniority to keep my job past this school year. When I’m ready to explain how the strong arm of the union caused this, I’ll write another story. That’s for a different day.

Of course, if someone decides to quit or retire last minute, I could be called back; which would really put a damper on any efforts to gain new employment. Also, the very same political tactics that created the mess in which school boards must lay off teachers is the one that influences other school boards to hire– or not. When I graduated college in 1998, good schools wanted experienced teachers to fill their ranks. Now, anyone with more than three years is considered too expensive, so veteran teachers remain stagnant while recent college graduates are advanced with no real world experience whatsoever. That seems to be the Ohio practice at least.

If anything else is an indicator, experience is a thing of the past. I mean, even the current U.S. President has no official executive experience prior to his gaining office. But that’s an unfair point since everything is going so well in this country right now.

The past year of my life has been a festering canker sore of existence. I was nearly laid off a year ago when my school system downsized. But I replaced someone with less seniority than I, and now that the RIF will continue, there’s practically no one else below me. The choir teacher is the only other one, and she’s being RIF’ed without the possibility of a callback. I’m better off than her, yet she works just as hard and in many respects is a much better music teacher than I am. But in government-owned public schools, quality of a teacher matters not. Only the date of their hire matters, and whether or not they qualify for a continuing contract. ┬áNever mind the fact that I had always taught elementary school general music and now teach high school band. Do you think that the ability and willingness to adapt might be considered an asset? Would you not believe that flexibility is generally viewed as positive? They matter not. Punctuality, a good attitude, a strong work ethic and a respect for the students are worth nothing. The school board, by contract, cannot consider such things in terms of a RIF. The union designed to protect me is in fact eliminating me. But I digress toward the other stoy I mentioned earlier.

I’m not worried about losing my salary, but what about my insurance? Last fall my wife gave birth to a baby boy with Down Syndrome. So far, insurance has been covering everything, but what company would allow me to pay them to take on the risk associated with such a pre-existing condition. That’s different when you gain new official employment, but what if I have to go out on my own? What if I have to provide the insurance myself? Since the average person might be freaking out at this, I’m choosing not to follow suit. I’ll remain calm, and plan now to save some money for the day when the benefits stop.

Unlike many people laid off in this age, I have several months worth of pay coming to me. I’ll be employed for the duration of my contract which expires on June 30. Since I opt for year round pay, I’ll technically earn my salary all the way up to September 1st.

This might look like a crisis to some. Not here. I am currently breathing. I’ll sleep in a nice bed tonight. I’ll get to have a nice breakfast in the morning and I’ll drive a car that’s paid off to work. I’ll hug and kiss my family goodbye as I leave for what could be the final chapter of my current career. My boys will welcome me home later. Much can happen between these words and tomorrow morning, but the point is that I have been given a good life.

I could be offered a second chance by a school district willing to take a chance on a veteran or be called back by my current employer. There’s no point in being bitter because it gains nothing.

I’ve been reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller lately and this morning about 20 minutes before I got the RIF warning, I tweeted a line I paraphrased from his book. Sometimes we allow our lives to be stolen from us by our evasion of conflict. He worded it to say something like “our stories are often stolen by the easy life.”

Well, this is me protecting my life from theft. I will not evade. I will not hide. I will not allow the easy life to creep in and steal what is entrusted to me.

Conflict? I’m not looking forward to fighting, but in the words of many others? BRING IT.