Oklahoma: It’s Not Me, It’s You!

I started writing yesterday, and it turned into a 1000 word rant about how much I hate to hear people justify low teacher pay with the false perception that “teachers only work 9 months out of the year.”  Twice now, I stepped away from that post.  Most of the people who read my blog know that teachers work well beyond their 7.5 hourfile-feb-27-7-53-56-pm day and 180 day contract year.  They don’t even have to drive by a school to see cars in the parking lot after 5pm to know that the teaching contract doesn’t adequately represent what the job really entails.  And as for other people, the ones who buy the 9 month myth, well…I can’t imagine anything I write is going to change their minds.

 

I’ve been saying for a few years now that it’s a tough time to be a teacher.  As if the unending and unfunded mandates from the higher ups or the constant “reform” strategies from non-educators weren’t enough, this morning a friend posted an article reminding us that Oklahoma will soon rank dead last in teacher pay.  That’s 51st.  Behind South Dakota and Mississippi, who found a way to fund teacher raises.  There are plenty of plans for teacher pay raises in the mix at the capitol right now.  But they all share one commonality:  none of them have a plan for funding.  And the constant struggle against what seems like an incessant war against public education is affecting my mood.

 

Listen, Oklahoma:  it’s not me, its you!

 

I love my job.  It’s never boring.  Every day presents new challenges and new chances to be important in the life of a child.  I have the unique opportunity, no…obligation…to inspire kids for several years.  During the school year, some of them spend more time with me than with their families.  Teenagers have the power to both amaze and annoy me.  It’s a paradox that makes my days interesting, and my time in the classroom never, ever dull.

 

So why am I struggling to enjoy my days in the classroom as I used to?

 

Oklahoma:  it’s not me, it’s you!

 

All my life, I’ve ever only wanted to be a teacher.  Throughout elementary school, junior high, and high school, this was my answer to the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  In the first semester of college, I declared my major:  music education.  I never wavered in that calling.  Even now, I find great fulfillment in recruiting and encouraging talented new people to my profession.  I tell them that teaching is the most rewarding and simultaneously frustrating work there is.

 

So why would I suddenly question a lifelong calling to such an important profession?

 

Oklahoma:  it’s not me, it’s you!

 

You have used my dedication, my passion, my integrity against me.  You have cited my fierce calling to a noble profession as justification for paying me poorly.  You have called me greedy for seeking financial security for my family.  Nobody expects to become a millionaire in the education field (unless you’re a billionaire heiress who wants to redirect education funds to poor-performing charter schools for profit).  But it’s unfair to deny college-educated professionals a wage that allows us to feed and clothe our own kids, put a roof over their heads, and maybe even send them to college someday.

 

I don’t want to leave my profession or the state I’ve called home for all of the nearly 35 years I’ve been alive.  But something’s gotta give.  And if it does…Oklahoma, it’s not me.  It’s you.

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3 thoughts on “Oklahoma: It’s Not Me, It’s You!

  1. I need to tell you something: the more teachers keep reminding people that they work countless hours beyond a ‘regular’ day and use their own money to buy necessary supplies, the more they’ll be expected to do it. After all, there can’t be that much problem if people can count on you to return year after year.

    Before you get angry, I’m just telling you what it sounds like. I already know that teachers are overworked, underpaid, and under appreciated. But you do yourselves no favors when you keep emphasizing that your work is a calling. I’m afraid it sounds to legislators and the public that they can put you at the end of the salary list yet again. You know, doctors and nurses and firefighters are just as dedicated as teachers are; they’re not afraid to remind the taxpayers that they expect the resources they require to do their jobs. And heaven knows businesses waste no time threatening to leave if they don’t get the tax breaks they want.

    I am really saddened that people are only starting to pay attention to teachers’ untenable situation because they are leaving the state, but money talks. Reminding people that this is your life calling? Not so much. At this point, I’d rather see teachers get angry. Stop decorating your classrooms –‘Gee, I’d love to, but no money.’ Don’t say you can’t do it because the kids are suffering. The kids are already suffering because of our neglect. Not yours, ours — but Oklahoma doesn’t have a reputation for having a culture that supports education in general. If the public won’t step up, even teacher dedication won’t save things.

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    1. Completely agree. Which is why I included this paragraph:
      “You have used my dedication, my passion, my integrity against me. You have cited my fierce calling to a noble profession as justification for paying me poorly. You have called me greedy for seeking financial security for my family. Nobody expects to become a millionaire in the education field (unless you’re a billionaire heiress who wants to redirect education funds to poor-performing charter schools for profit). But it’s unfair to deny college-educated professionals a wage that allows us to feed and clothe our own kids, put a roof over their heads, and maybe even send them to college someday.”

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  2. Of course it’s unfair. But, to be brutally frank, the state legislature and most of the voting public don’t care that you have a calling. In fact, the more you say it, the more they think you are ok with things the way they are. (I’m glad you have a calling, but calling does not equal respect or money, which you know all too well.) Our current political climate has succeeded in characterizing public schools as government schools and teachers as part-timers who are living off everyone else’s money.

    Of course this is outrageous — after all, these jerks see that they are paid more than most teachers here. Being nice will get you a pat on the head. They *are* using your dedication against you. If all they have to do is put up with you complaining, they’ll deal. That’s why I’m suggesting that teachers start to talk more about the support they need to do their jobs: equipment, pay, and people out of their faces. If they know you are dedicated, their eyes will glaze over. If you get up to leave or start doing only what the job requires, they start paying attention. It shouldn’t be this way, but it is.

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