How Getting Laid Off Changed My Life

by Charise Rohm Nulsen

My ample midsection cramped up as I stood tapping my foot distractedly outside of a once welcoming room – a room that now held my fate. I tried to ignore the contractions that gently rocked me from the inside out and focus on presenting a confident countenance that would be worthy of hearing the words I had been told I would receive today: “We look forward to having you back as a faculty member next year, Charise.”

A fellow teacher suddenly burst through the closed door. Was that a tear on her face? I tried not to let this rattle me as I reflected on the possibility that the fantastic teacher who just brushed by me was a possible casualty of these district mandated layoffs. I focused instead on the promises this incoming principal had made our staff. He understood that the last thing the children of our tumultuous, inner city school needed was more abandonment. Whether it be by choice or not, these kids already had more people walk away from them in their short lives than most people experience in a lifetime. My students loved me and I loved them. I was respected by my peers and my teaching evaluations were perfect. I had nothing to worry about.

I smiled brightly at next year’s principal and the HR rep as I attempted to squeeze my copious belly into the miniature chair across the table from them.

“I’m sorry… What’s your name again?”

This startled me a bit as I remembered how many times we had emailed and at how many meetings we had spoken recently. Wasn’t I sort of memorable at this point with my 8 1/2 month pregnant belly?

I gave him my name.

“And what do you teach again?”

Oh. Crap.

“Special Ed ELA.”

He scanned a list, really looked at me for the first time, and pronounced, “I’m sorry we will not be having you back next year. Here is the paperwork you need. Thanks for your time.”

I was so shocked that I could not respond. Later, I would think of seemingly one hundred questions and retorts that I should have uttered, but nothing came to me in my paralysis of awe.

Oh my god. We just bought a house. And a car. And we’re having a baby. And I ADORE these children. How can I be without them? What the hell just happened? Didn’t he know how I didn’t think twice about throwing my lifegiving body in the midst of the fights and assaults that happened in our hallways on a now daily basis? Didn’t he know that these kids poured their hearts out to me? Didn’t he know that these children inhabited my dreams on a regular basis?

As the day went on and I saw crying teachers, outraged students, and hysterical children, I came to realize that our status as a turnaround school led to exactly what we were told wouldn’t happen. Eighty-five percent of our middle school staff had been let go.

Fast forward to now. I am still a teacher. I am also a student. My sole pupil and inspiring instructor in life lessons is much younger than my previous students. He pays me in cuddles and adoring glances that empower me heart and my life with contented ferocity.

The curriculum may be different, but the process is the same. My days are filled with love and learning, inspiration and hope, and I never dreamed I could be this happy.

My student

My partner in love and learning.

This post is in response to a RemembeRED meme from The Red Dress Club: This week we want you to recall something in your life that seemed terrible at the time, but looking back, brought you something wonderful.

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{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

1 MamaP April 25, 2011 at 6:29 pm

You give power to the expression, “Things happen for a reason”. Amen.


2 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 25, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Amen is right! xo


3 Betsy April 25, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Wow. That’s a doozy. Makes my heart ache.


4 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 25, 2011 at 8:46 pm

It was a doozy, but I literally thank God it happened every day.


5 Betsy April 25, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Yeah, I too think of moming as a big promotion.


6 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 26, 2011 at 9:31 am

LOL – HUGE promotion ;-)


7 Karen Greenberg April 25, 2011 at 7:53 pm

As a new teacher looking for my first job, this story broke my heart. I am so glad you found the good in being laid off. I can only hope to find a job for next year. If I don’t, though, I will know the world has not come to an end.


8 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 25, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Good luck with your job search, Karen! Many teaching jobs open up literally right at the start of the school year, so if you’re not getting offers right away, hang in there. Also, tutoring, volunteering and substitute teaching in schools, and networking with educational non-profits helps a lot too!


9 Karen Greenberg April 25, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Thanks Charise! I did sub the last semester this year, up until I got shingles and will now have the rest of the year off. I finished my degree program and got certified in November. I thought I would have a job at the school I’ve been subbing for, but they seem upset that I am sick and can’t work now. Bad timing, but everything happens for a reason! I will do some tutoring next school year if I can’t find a job, and I am considering applying to teach on-line as well.
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10 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 25, 2011 at 9:15 pm

I’m sorry! How frustrating! Your situation reminds me of when I was getting my special ed license and was working at a special needs school to get my required hours for my license. I loved the school, and was really considering working there the following year. Then, I got pregnant, had my miscarriage and all of the complications from that, came back to work, and then my cousin died so I was out even longer. It was such ridiculous circumstances, but I didn’t want to share everything about it at the time, so it was frustrating for the school. To make a long story short, they ultimately did offer me a job for the following year – even with the awful circumstances – and I wound up also getting the offer for the school I was laid off from. Although it was awful to get laid off from that school, I loved my time teaching there so much that it was worth it. This is a long way of saying that when I was in similar circumstances, things did work out, and I really hope the same happens for you!


11 Karen Greenberg April 25, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Thanks! I think I’ve finally come to terms with the idea that whatever happens, it will work out in the end. To be truthful, I had closed my eyes to so many other possibilities because I was POSITIVE I wanted to work at this one school and no other. Seeing how they have treated me so differently now that I am sick was a real eye-opener. I am now looking at some other job openings, including ones working for the state in the juvenile correctional facility. I would be able to use my first degree together with my teaching certificate there, so it would really be a dream come true. I don’t know where I will end up at the beginning of next school year, but no matter where and what it is, it will be a new and exciting adventure.
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12 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 25, 2011 at 9:52 pm

I love your attitude, Karen! Please keep me posted and let me know what happens with the dream job!!

13 Rosann April 25, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Funny how our beautiful children totally change our lives, isn’t it? They are a blessing and a gift from God. And the character lessons we go through as parents, are also a blessing from God when we look back and see how much more amazing life is now, than it was before.

Great post!

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14 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 25, 2011 at 8:42 pm

I completely agree, Rosann! Life is so much more amazing now, thanks to Baby!


15 emily April 25, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Charise~ Do you still keep in touch with any of your previous students????


16 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 25, 2011 at 8:41 pm

I do! I have a separate FB page for keeping in touch with former students. I still get messages from them via FB, email and IM. I’m definitely planning on going to the graduation of my former 7th graders this year :-)


17 Momma Jorje April 25, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Ouch! I’m glad you’ve taken positive from that negative situation! How did you survive all your new financial liabilities?

The students always get the short end of the stick. :-P
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18 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 25, 2011 at 9:09 pm

The students do always get the short end of the stick! It’s so unfortunate and a serious indication of the problems within our educational system. There’s way too much lip service paid to fixing our educational system and such a reliance on numbers rather than caring about the actual people that make up the system – staff and students alike.

Re: our finances, I’m collecting unemployment, and luckily my husband has been a superstar at his job and has been doing well, although it’s a lot of pressure on him to be the sole breadwinner. I’m really hoping that one day I’ll make some money from blogging and writing also ;-)


19 OneMommy April 25, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Wow. That’s how they said it? Harsh. 85 % let go? Wow. I went back to teaching to finish the school year when I had my daughter and then I resigned; turns out it was good I did b/c of all the crazy things they’ve done to staff at my old school. And as much as I loved teaching, I can’t imagine life any other way. I’m glad you have a shining pupil to fill your days full of joy!


20 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 25, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Yup. It was a surreal experience.

I can completely relate to what you said about loving teaching but not being able to imagine life any other way! :-) I know I’ll go back to teaching at some point, but for now, it’s clear to me that I’m exactly where I should be.


21 Marla April 25, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Thank you for sharing. I’m glad you too were able to see the gift you were given in the midst of heartache. I had a similar experience and the bills keep coming but the time I’m getting to spend with my little man are priceless.


22 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 25, 2011 at 9:20 pm

I’m sorry to hear you’ve been through a similar experience, Marla, but PRICELESS is exactly the right word for the time we get to spend with our little ones!


23 classycareergirl April 25, 2011 at 10:36 pm

What an amazing story! Thanks for sharing!
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24 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 26, 2011 at 9:31 am

Thanks for visiting!


25 TheKitchenWitch April 26, 2011 at 9:26 am

Wow. That was a very Up in the Air kind of way they terminated your position, wasn’t it? It must have been so stressful for all involved, and I feel for those kids.

You pupil, however, is delightful.


26 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 26, 2011 at 9:32 am

Thanks. It was stressful, but totally worth it to now have the most captivating pupil ever!


27 Ashley April 26, 2011 at 11:43 am

Look at that precious face! I’m sure he’s so happy to have his Mama home with him. Definitely a great thing from a bad experience.
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28 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 26, 2011 at 11:45 am

He certainly is! I love looking at that face all day :-)


29 Erica M April 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Very nice post. These things work themselves out when we give them time. Thanks for stopping by my space today!


30 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 26, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Thanks, Erica! Time really does work everything out.


31 Jennifer@Vodka Calling April 26, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Wow….why were they so mean when they let you go? Geez!!

I can only hope my children have a teacher as committed as you. I am so impressed that you still keep in touch w/ some of them.


32 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Thanks, Jennifer! That means a lot to me!


33 pauline April 26, 2011 at 2:35 pm

This wasn’t just a blog post. It was a glimpse into that moment. Very nicely done.


34 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Thank you for the sweet compliment, Pauline!


35 Galit Breen April 26, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Amen, sister! As a former teacher I could relate to so much of this- the cuts, the nerves, the way it is to teach our own little ones.

I can’t believe you stayed waiting to hear through contractions! So tough!

I loved how thoughtful and reflective this was; it was truly a slice of your past. Ahem- it was truly a memoir! :)
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36 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 26, 2011 at 4:46 pm

LOL – Thanks, my friend!


37 CJ April 26, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Such a beautiful way of looking at it.
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38 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 26, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Thanks so much, CJ.


39 JDaniel4's Mom April 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm

It is so hard to get a teaching job. When I moved after getting married, I could barely get doors open with 20 years of teaching experience!
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40 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 26, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Wow – That is scary!


41 le chef April 26, 2011 at 5:27 pm

That initial wave of understanding after being laid off. WOW. How I completely understand that. But it’s interesting, isn’t it, how something like that opens the door to so many new potentials? You have to wonder where the human race would be without the obstacles of change.
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42 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 26, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I love your wise comment. We would be absolutely nowhere without the obstacles of change!


43 Erin April 27, 2011 at 1:21 am

That tough! I can imagine how much you miss those kids! But what an opportunity….and what a wonderful student and teacher I am sure you are. The perfect pair!
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44 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 27, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Thanks, Erin! I do miss my students so much, but I am head over heels for my current student :-)


45 Frume Sarah April 27, 2011 at 2:14 am

First of all, that is one gorgeous baby. ;)

Next, you so accurately described what must have been an awful experience. Not just the moment when you learned that you were being RIF’d, but knowing that you were leaving behind your students. Kids who had come to depend on the stability of seeing you walk through the door every day.

Thank you for sharing your experience.


46 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 27, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Thank you for the sweet compliment and for the feedback, Sarah!


47 Nicole Rivera April 27, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Heartbreaking reality of the current education system. I love your entire internal discussion:

“Didn’t he know how I didn’t think twice about throwing my lifegiving body in the midst of the fights and assaults that happened in our hallways on a now daily basis? Didn’t he know that these kids poured their hearts out to me? Didn’t he know that these children inhabited my dreams on a regular basis?”

Do non-teachers realize?

I have often told others THE ONLY thing that could replace the level of concern I had for my students would be a child of my own.

I can imagine the ferocity of your motherhood – taking emotions you felt for so many and pouring it all into one beautiful bundle of life, love learning and joy.

It was kismet.
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48 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 27, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Love your comment, Nicole! I don’t think non-teachers can truly understand – and yes! Only a child of your own can surpass what you feel for your students <3


49 Kim @ Incandescent Blue Flame April 27, 2011 at 9:15 pm

I love how you turned an, “Oh, Crap” into an “Oh, Wonderful!” I was previously in a miserable work situation (and now I’m not! Yeah!). Looking back on it, I learned a great deal about myself so it was “worth it” to go through that pain–and now I truly appreciate all of life’s gifts! Thanks for sharing your gifts!

Kim (From the BlogFrog SU thread)
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50 Kristl Story April 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm

So many teachers are being let go in Texas…I’ll stumble this & hope your experience will comfort a few!
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51 Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama April 28, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Thank you so much! I hate hearing about mass layoffs of teachers!


52 Brenna @ Almost All The Truth April 29, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Wow, what a truly perspective changing experience. We are living in times that make no sense for the majority of teachers and majority of students. I am so glad that it worked out so well for you. I hope it can for others as well.
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53 Jenn @ Home is Where You Start From April 30, 2011 at 2:50 am

wow, what a horrible experience, and I felt your hurt for the kids of your school. I’m glad that you found the blessings out of it.


54 Miel et Lait May 1, 2011 at 3:47 am

That’s awful when it happens, but it looks like you took your lemons and made lemonade. Good for you!
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55 Danielle September 12, 2011 at 8:15 pm

I love this post because I can relate to it. I was just laid off in April after teaching at my school for six years. I had just come back from my maternity leave the day before and the very next day they called me in to let me go. Have you ever seen the movie Up In the Air with George Clooney? It was EXACTLY like that.
Michelle just started introducing me to the blog world and she speaks so highly of you. I have been catching up on your blog, little by little and I am really enjoying it. I wish I had my blog as an outlet when this all happened to me. Our story was very similar, but it definitely is a bitter-sweet. I did just write a quick piece before my friends went back to work. Here it is in case you want to take a look:
Your son is adorable. Congrats1 I look forward to reading a lot more.


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