Monroe County, IN—Gaylene Hayden, a French teacher at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, says she was surprised when she found out that she had received one of six 'outstanding service to Hoosier students' awards on Thursday.
"I don't really think anyone saw it coming," said Hayden.
Hayden says that phrase describes both the highest honor and the lowest let-down of her career.
In the same week she found out about the service to students award, McCutcheon High School notified her that her future service is no longer needed.
"What's interesting is I lost my job for sure on Friday and then my husband lost his job on Tuesday," Hayden said. "So we're just really grateful that it's all going to work out because God really does have a plan."
For 11 years Hayden says that plan has been to teach, and after just two years at McCutcheon High School, Gaylene says she's humbled to have been honored thanks to a nomination of one of her students.
"I would have nominated her too," said sophomore Alan Lemus, one of Gaylene's French students.
Despite her honor, Hayden's short time at the school also means she lacks seniority, which is why she received a Reduction in Force (RIF) notice in response to the Governor's $298 million cut to education funding.
She isn't the only one. Jackie Macal, an English teacher at Batchelor Middle School in Monroe County, was also honored Thursday. She has also been "RIFed" by her school.
"It's the way the system is right now," Macal said.
Both Hayden and Macal expressed mixed emotion upon getting their awards, saying they'd like to see teachers evaluated on more than just seniority. They are both in favor of gauging decisions based on some kind of teacher performance.
Though she believes it is a flawed system, Hayden says she's not bitter and would have never thought of skipping such an honor.
"If I didn't go I feel like that would be disrespectful to someone who took the time to recommend me," she said. "And I'm looking at it as an opportunity to maybe see what's next."
When asked to respond to the RIF notices handed to two award-winning teachers, Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett said the Board of Education has been working on the issue for years. He says this is an example of why the teacher's union should allow schools to use teacher performance in addition to seniority when making staffing decisions.
"It's wrong that great teachers like the ones that we are honoring today would be removed from Indiana classrooms and that children would be deprived of the right to have this greatness everyday," said Dr. Bennett
On Thursday, Teresa Meredith with the Iniana State Teachers Association downplayed the need for perfmance-based hiring over a seniority-based system.
"It's just purely coincidental I think that the honorees this year are not as experienced as their veteran teachers," Meredith said. "And though it is disappointing, we honor and value the experience of the folks who have been in the classroom for a while and we see that those veteran teachers are really experts in their field."
In Indiana, the average teacher yearly salary is just over $50,000. A beginner teacher makes $32,000.