Out-of-Work Teachers Visit White House, Weigh In on Jobs Bill at ED

As President Obama held up a copy of his American Jobs Act in the White House Rose Garden Monday and urged Congress to put aside political differences to put Americans back to work, he was surrounded by a supportive audience that included more than 20 educators who have personally felt the sting of tough economic times.

Special education teacher Terrell Williams works in a Baltimore, Md., school that is in such poor condition that he gets angry with the debate about whether or not to fix it.

Teachers who have been laid off because of budget shortfalls applauded loudly as the President described how “all across America teachers are being laid off in droves” and argued that this is “exactly what we shouldn’t be doing if we want to prepare our kids for college.”

These teachers had very personal reasons for applauding the President’s plan. More than half off them have been laid of or are facing potential layoffs. Others work in schools that are falling apart, where brown water flows from faucets, ceilings leak and they share their classrooms with rodents.

Later in the day, many of the educators who had come to Washington for the President’s speech congregated at ED to share their stories with some of the ED staff and Secretary Arne Duncan.

They included teacher Lisa Bruska, a mother of three who’s fighting cancer, who described being laid off from teaching first grade at Becker Primary School in Minnesota. Her husband, Randy, a machinist, is also out of work. Bruska described the President’s speech as “inspirational” and urged Congress to invest in putting educators like her back to work.

Lisa Bruska, a mother of three who’s fighting cancer, described being laid off from teaching first grade in Minnesota

Stephanie Harris Walker, an English teacher from Amsterdam, Ohio, who lost her job at Jefferson County Joint Vocational School, said that when the President described “schools that desperately need renovating,” she could really relate. “I was picturing my own school with a leaking roof,” she said, through tears.

Special education teacher Terrell Williams works in a Baltimore, Md., school that is in such poor condition that he gets angry with the debate about whether or not to fix it. “Sometimes I just find it offensive,” Williams said. Explaining that it is difficult to assure children that education is important when their schools are falling apart, Williams urged teachers and families to show decision-makers what the conditions are like for his kids.

Today, Secretary Duncan is traveling with President Obama to a school in Columbus, Ohio, to talk about the need to fix sub-standard school facilities. After his discussion with teachers, Duncan said, “These are the very conversations we need to be having across this country right now.”

The White House has prepared a fact sheet explaining how the American Jobs Act will help upgrade schools and community colleges, including how much money for modernization and renovation will flow to each state and some of the nation’s largest school districts.

Laurie Calvert

ED Teacher Liaison Laurie Calvert, a high school English teacher, is on loan to the Department of Education from Buncombe County, North Carolina.


  1. Thousands of teachers around the country trying to make a difference in this world out of work and feeling hopeless. I am an example, I went back to school to gain a Masters degree in Educational Leadership last year. It was a huge sacrifice for my family (try working full time as a teacher, go to grad school and have a family). Not to mention the students loans are due. I have not worked full – time since June of 2009 as a history teacher and lets not even discuss the Principal job and credential I labored so hard to achieve. Administrative jobs were the first job cut in this class war against teachers so I am starting to regret doing graduate school. I have run through my savings, retirement and getting down to my last pennies. All I wanted to do was help kids and make a difference in the world. It is time to go back to my first career sales and use my Masters to make money because our system does not value education or teachers any longer.

  2. I was told by a congressman that educators don’t complain enough or talk loud enough. He indicated that the criminal justice system complains if there is a whole in a prison roof, or if the air is not working. Guess what, they listen. I strongly believe until educators do what Wisconsin did, walk out, I don’t think they will take education seriously. I have been in education for over 20 years, and it is not getting any better. I sit and watch our leaders choosing to keep their benefits, and cut benefits of others. I watch them get out and campaign on what we want and believe in, then turn around and forget that they promised these things. Until every working person in this nation come together and stop voting for the lies, they will continue. I firmly believe that regardless to your party affiliation, we all want the same thing (jobs, health care and a decent play to live). Until we require that our representatives stop spending our money wastefully, this country will continue to deteriorate. We sink billions of tax payers dollars in countries that want to remain in poverty, and overlook what is at our front door. I am offended quite often, when our representatives sit in office and use their personal agendas to justify what they do. I hope and pray that our children and the elderly will become priority one day.

  3. What wasn’t mentioned in this blog about Lisa Bruska is that she was named Teacher of the Year in the school district for the 2010-2011 school year but was released before the start of the 2011-2012 school year. How messed up is that?

  4. For far too long students and teachers have had to trudge to schools across the nation that are in worse than horrible conditions. Imagine having the 4 or 5 year old you know if your life having to sleep on a mat that is on the floor where mice and roaches have run across over and over again. Imagine working in a room that feels like 100 degrees in the summer and 10 degrees in the winter. Yet, we say “Education is the key!” “Don’t drop out!” “Knowledge is power!”

    Though I believe every single quote above and I still tell my students education is important, I try my hardest to teach all students no matter the condition of the room or building. Where we have kids report to everyday still speaks more volumes than anything that comes out of our mouth!

    I applaud President Obama’s efforts, I just really hope it happens. Not too optimistic….

  5. Parents and teachers need to join forces and just make the kids read aloud, whether it is from a paperback book or from a Kindle. Read the word, say it, spell it, and make up a sentence using the word. It worked for me and my generation (I’m 68 years of age), and it ought to work today. At least it is a system and it is better than just wringing our hands and expressing, “what shall we do?”

  6. It seems to me that our country needs to step back and take a long look at our national priorities. Which is more important? Fighting a long-term war overseas or fixing our schools and infrastructure? We cannot do both. We have enough soldiers her to guard every mile of our borders and still enough to put them to work fixing our repairable schools and building new ones with the latest technology.
    What is more important, reducing Middle Eastern lands back to the stone age, or bringing our kids up to the 21st Century? How much longer are we going to get stuck in the “Vietnam of the desert?” Peace is a much investment

  7. As long as teachers and substitutes have to follow a long list of stupid rules and requirements before they are allowed to teach, many kids will continue to fail tests, continue to be largely unemployable and lack the insight and depth of learning necessary to help America compete in a global, competitive economy.

    The administrators, teachers and university scholars who believe they are doing the best and most for education are usually the greatest obstacles to real, innovative initiatives.

    They largely believe that there own programs are always the best and wear horse-blinders to anything they have not conceived of themselves.

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