Every time I meet someone new and they ask me, “What do you do for a living?”, I fill with dread. Not because I despise what I do for a living, in fact it is the exact opposite. Every day I get to teach the most incredible young people. But when I answer with, “I teach second grade” to the general public, their perception of me changes in an instant.
When I say “teacher” 87% of people drop my IQ (not an actual statistic, just an observation), tell me I must love having summers off, respond with quips such as “you must have some great ideas for crafts”, or they sadly sigh and say “I don’t know how you do it, but I’m glad you do. We need good teachers.”
You see, the world knows we need great teachers. Society generally recognizes the work I and so many others do every day on an altruistic and holistic level. They understand the need for an incredible teacher to be the person educating our youth. The problem lies in that no one wants to admit they don’t actually value teachers and turn do not actually value all of the children in our state.
Consider the things in your life you find true value in. Your family, your friendships, standing for what you deem right, maybe your car, or your favorite necklace – the things you value you protect. You fight for what you love and cherish. If someone comes after someone or something you love, you step in. You rise to fight for them or it.
What I’ve had a front row seat to in the state of Oklahoma for the last ten years is being told I’m valued as an educator, but being shown I’m easily disposable.
Since I started teaching, I have seen the budgets for services such as mental health, counseling, specialized programs that meet the needs of high needs students, after school clubs and programs, arts, music, athletics, full work weeks, and more slashed.
I watched as my friends from college and many colleagues moved out of state to neighboring states because they could make easily $10,000 more a year. I was sitting at a table about to speak when Shawn Sheehan received an email that held an offer from a school district in Texas. He was heartbroken, but ultimately did what was best for him and his family. He went where the state would start to show him the value he deserves.
I have seen my class size grow to sizes where I am rendered ineffective and must act as a babysitter because it is not feasible to actually engage each and every student in the school day while managing the other students. Let alone meet the academic and social emotional needs of each student while pushing them to show substantial growth compared to the students from states who fund education.
Districts across the state are scraping by to function on shoe-string budgets. I see the cuts those who work at education service centers across the state endure right along side us. Oklahoma, our education systems is hemorrhaging. We must truly fund education, now.
Through my ten years I’ve spoken with legislators in person and on the phone. Most told me things like, “Our hands are tied.” Or “We know something needs to be done. I just don’t think it’ll get done this year.”
Enough. Enough of the empty lip service and excuses. Enough of the bureaucracy and red tape. Enough.
After introducing myself to legislators on different occasions every single one responded to my job title with something to the effect of, “Thank you for being a teacher. We need great teachers in Oklahoma. I really value what you’re doing.”
I’m jaded and angry. But for the first time I see clearly that no, you and the voters of our state do not value me or my colleagues. You do not value what I choose to do each day. You do not value our children, our state or our future.
You value those who have lined your pockets. You value those who you feel can give you access to more power. You value those who can ensure you stay in office or rise to a new public office. You value those who curate a mirage of who you think the public wants you to be. But it is clear, you do not value me.
At this point it is pretty common knowledge that Oklahoma educators, school districts, and organizations are banding together to make a point. If nothing is done to restore the compounding cuts with a plan to begin to truly fund education in Oklahoma by April 1, we shut down.
Hear me, I do not want schools to shutdown.
I know exactly what that means for the students of our state, my district and very specifically for the children and the families in my classroom this year. I see the hardship it will cause for parents and families. But if nothing is done, the children sitting in my classroom and across classrooms in our state will continue to have their education jeopardized because elected officials will not do their jobs.
Across social media I keep seeing the phrase, “We are not walking out on your kids. We are walking out for your kids.” I have to keep telling myself the same thing.
You see in general teachers are incredibly optimistic and resourceful, as a collective. You cut our funds, we find a way to make it work for our students every day.
We have done this for far too long. I and many other educators have compensated for the lack of funding by using our own money, sacrificing precious time with our own families and friends, and continually prioritizing our students well being above our own, which often comes at the cost of our own health.
I can’t be the effective teacher I know I am if I am not supported and valued by our state. So instead of telling teachers you value what we do, Oklahoma it is time to show us.
Parents, students, grandparents, community members, anyone who cares – call your state legislators.
Tell them enough.
Tell them if they truly value teachers, show us with their actions. If it comes to a shutdown, show up at the capitol. Or reach out to the organizations and efforts to continue to feed children on free and reduced lunch or provide childcare during a shutdown. Ask how you can help. Research how your legislators voted in the past. Not how they said they would, but how they did. Do their actions align with valuing our state and all the people that make up this grand land? If not, let your legislator know. Consider maybe supporting a campaign for this year.
My mom always said, “If you don’t like something, do something.”
So Oklahoma, it’s safe to say the mass exodus of teachers, the laceration of education funding, and the effects it has on the daily learning of our most precious asset, our future, are abysmal. Let’s do something.