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“You’re firing me?”
“Well, no, not in so many words…” Principal Hernandez looked down at the papers on his desk, shuffling them and straightening the pile to avoid locking eyes with the young woman on the other side of his desk. He always hated this time of year. Budget cuts and stricter government standards meant that layoffs at the end of every school year had become commonplace.
Lincoln Middle School had consistently scored poorly on the state-mandated standardized tests, putting Principal Hernandez in the unenviable position of making the school’s budget balance. Fundraisers and booster clubs could only go so far. He didn’t have the space in the budget for any extra teachers that weren’t in STEM specialties.
“We’ve just decided that we won’t be able to renew your contract for next year,” the haggard older man finished, his eyes trained on the scratched edge of his desk. He hated this part of the job. Each year, doe-eyed kids, freshly certified, inundated him with resumes. Each year, he let go his best teachers to make room for inexperienced people that he could pay less.
Gemma Fellings had been one of those hires a few years ago. She was a great elective teacher. She managed to teach the music, art, and computer students on different days of the week. The students loved her, she even supervised a few of the after-school study groups. It would hurt to lose a passionate and dedicated professional, but there just wasn’t any place for her salary.
“So, I’m fired, like I said,” she answered, trying to force the slight man to make eye contact with her. She knew that he was avoiding her gaze because of his guilty conscience; making him meet her eyes wouldn’t change his mind, though.
“The county has appointed a one teacher for all of the middle schools. He’s going to visit five schools a day. You know what the cuts are like with FCAT and Common Core. You’re too good of a teacher to be treated like this, Gemma. You deserve better.”
Gemma frowned, feeling like she deserved a job if she was such a great teacher. There was no arguing her case though. Any teacher without tenure knew that their fate could be decided at any moment without them. Unions could only do so much as far as contracts were concerned; they helped in the negotiations and Gemma was sure if she called her representative they would give her some path of recourse.
“I’m really sorry; I’m in a tough place. It’s either you or Abigail and…”
“And parents would much rather pre-AP than art, I get it,” she answered with a sigh.
She left the empty halls of Lincoln Middle School, trying to stop herself from getting sentimental. This had been her first assignment, where she found her teaching legs so to speak. She loved the kids, but the job wasn’t what she had imagined. Entitled parents, lack of supplies and no support from administration made her job unnecessarily difficult.
As she crossed the sweltering parking lot, a fine sheen of sweat broke out on her forehead. The sunshine state had always been Gemma’s home, but even after twenty-seven years, she still wasn’t used to the oppressive humidity of Tampa Bay.
The drive home gave her ample time to think about her next course of action; she didn’t want to stay in Tampa anymore. That much she knew. The city was too big, too dangerous, too full of uncertainties around every corner.