State

Layoff retort by Modesto teacher backfires

This year, high school teacher. Next year, stripper and egg donor?

When students asked an Enochs High School English teacher this week what she'd do if she lost her job to budget cuts, she said she'd have to become a stripper and sell her reproductive eggs to pay the bills.

Though it was a sarcastic comment, some parents are not taking it so lightly. As the retort was relayed to parents, one mother thought it was inappropriate and complained to Enochs High officials.

The teacher was one of 40 at Enochs and 370 at all Modesto City Schools who received layoff notices this week — and her story illustrates the devastation and stress educators are under as districts across the state slash their bottom lines, teachers and officials said.

"It was her way of defusing a tense situation" with sarcasm, said Janeen Zambo, an Enochs history teacher and the site representative with the Modesto Teachers Association. "We're all human beings; occasionally there are things we say that aren't our most stellar moments."

Though it's a confidential personnel matter, district officials said the incident was resolved earlier in the week, but wouldn't disclose whether the teacher was disciplined.

The teacher, who was at work Friday, declined to comment.

"We're encouraged to have strong relationships, and appropriate relationships, with our students. Naturally, they're going to be concerned about us," Zambo said. She advises teachers to be honest with students and parents about the impact of budget cuts, but to keep the focus on student learning.

MTA Executive Director Megan Gowans called the comments "a poor choice of words," but said they reflect the stress teachers are under.

The state Department of Education estimates that preliminary pink slips will be handed to 26,500 teachers by the Monday deadline — 2½ times more than were issued last year.

An additional 15,000 bus drivers, janitors, secretaries and administrators are expected to receive the written warnings, state officials said.

"It's difficult to put your emotions aside when your future is uncertain," Gowans said.

For teachers needing to vent or get counseling for their frustration or anxiety over receiving the layoff warnings, Gowans is visiting each school site to remind them about the district's employee assistance phone line that connects employees with health professionals.

"(The teacher) made a very flippant response to deflect the devastation and impact of these budget cuts," Gowans said. "Teachers are on emotional edge right now."

Though that's no excuse for the teacher's colorful remarks, Gowans said, students and parents took the words differently. Some understood she was being flippant and sarcastic, while others thought she crossed a line.

"Now that she has thought about it, she probably wishes she said she'd probably be working at McDonald's," Zambo said. "It's another way to get that point across."

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

  Comments