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The Road Forward
As each year draws to an end, we tend to reflect on our own personal journey over the previous twelve months. This year has been especially difficult, and educators have been severely affected along with millions of other jobless American workers. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to maintain our jobs have seen our work loads increase while resources dwindled or disappeared altogether. Economists will call 2009 the Great Recession, but for many of us who grew up without worrying about foreclosures, or job loss or not being able to meet our financial obligations, this year has felt more like a Great Depression.
Typically, educators can assume some sense of job security even in the most difficult of economic declines. But with states facing billion dollar deficits, this economic tsunami wiped out teaching and support staff positions in hundreds of schools across the country. We tend to get complacent in education, especially once we have completed all the necessary educational requirements for our clear or lifetime teaching credential. But if this year has taught us anything, it is that complacency can be dangerous. Even teachers with tenure and years of experience have found themselves jobless because their positions were eliminated. Individuals who are currently unemployed are now realizing that they may need to go back to school for additional education or training. The security of a lifetime career is obsolete. As educators we need to instill and model for our students the necessity of lifelong learning and the wisdom of developing and maintaining a professional sideline or “Plan B” career.
The media is leading us to believe that we will rebound out of this economic canyon and return to a healthy, thriving and robust economy within a few years. But serious economists (who aren ‘t on the political payroll) have reminded us that after the Great Depression, it took from the late 1930 ‘s to the mid 1950 ‘s for the economy to recover back to a pre-depression level. Given that equation, those of us in education now are looking at fifteen more years of struggling through financial constraints. Threats of additional job cuts are a real possibility as are the elimination of benefits and pay cuts. Many districts are eliminating summer school as a means to save money and this single change will affect hundreds of teachers and support staff who have come to depend on it for needed income. With the threat of financial instability looming for the next several years, it is time for educators to re-train, upgrade and enhance their marketablility in order to compete in a thawing job market.
Some of us in education are fortunate enough to be able to work professionally at our craft while working full time. The arts affords such possibilities. In addition to my full time teaching job, I also own and operate an art studio where I teach and create my own art which I sell. As a working artist it is necessary for me to stay current and up to date with trends and preferences in art. In order to stay marketable as an illustrator, I now need to elevate my computer skills, put my biases aside and learn Photo-shop. I have fought it for years, being an advocate of hands on, direct application art. But the market has changed drastically and in order to compete I need to bite the bullet and adapt.
On-line schools and universities offer a wide variety of available programs that make it easy and affordable for educators to upgrade their skills or receive additional certification or training. Academy of Art University in San Francisco, for example, offers a Teacher Grant program which allows high school and college level educators and counselors the opportunity to take any non-degree seeking undergraduate course for free. Their courses can be taken on-line or in person at the University. This is an exceptional opportunity for art educators to expand their professional expertise and upgrade their skills.
Capitalizing on skills that we already possess in teaching such as personnel management, professional development and training, budget and inventory management, computer skills, and other more subject specific skills, can boost marketability. Honing our craftsmanship and artistic skills, elevating our hobbies to a level of professionalism, can all provide us with substantial tools that we can use to generate additional income or develop into a new career path.
As educators, we cannot continue to operate the way we have been, relying on tenure, paid health benefits and annual salary increases. This recession has changed the way America does business including the business of education. We need to be able to adapt, and be ready for the career challenges that accompany those changes. We are the generation that was drilled to “go to college and get a good education and you will be set for life”. Good advice at the time, but no longer sufficient for the 21st century world that we live in. If we value life long learning for our students then we need to embrace it for ourselves as well. We may not be able to change what is happening economically in the world today, but we can change how we respond to it by taking stock of our skills, talents and attributes and refining them with additional training and education.
Tere Barbella is an arts educator in the East Side Union High School District of San Jose, California. Visit her blog at HotChalkArt.com.