…And a Little Bit Worse

Someone once told me, “Feelings are neither right nor wrong. Feelings just…are.

 

I’ve never forgotten that. And it has popped into my mind ever since when I find myself in emotionally charged situations.

 

We don’t necessarily have control over our feelings. They just happen…they just..are. We do have control in how we respond to our feelings, but to attempt to shut them off completely can be a detriment to our emotional and mental health.

 

It’s also why we should avoid telling people how they should feel about something. To say to someone they should or shouldn’t feel a certain way is to imply that their feelings are wrong. It isn’t helpful, and it’s patronizing.

 

That’s why I get so defensive when somebody outside my profession tries to direct or even scold my thoughts and feelings about what is going on in the education world today, especially what is happening in Oklahoma. You see, there is a difference between sympathy and empathy.   Sympathy is something you feel for somebody who is experiencing something you imagine to be difficult. Empathy is when you know it to be difficult because you have experienced it (or are experiencing it). To sympathize is to feel for someone. To empathize is to feel with someone. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s still there.

 

In the hours and days following November 8th and Oklahoma’s defeat of SQ779, which would have circumvented legislators and established a continuous source of funding for our teachers and schools, I commiserated with a small group of educators. We all agreed on the events that would unfold in the coming months:

  1. Legislators would give lip service to educators by attempting to carry the banner for teacher pay raises (in front of as many cameras and journalists as possible).
  2. With as much pomp and circumstance as possible, several bills for teacher pay raises would be filed, most if not all of which would have no plan for funding.
  3. A few would make it out of committee.
  4. One or two might pass their respective chambers.
  5. All bills pertaining to teacher raises and increased funding for education would be dead by May.
  6. Legislators would simultaneously shrug their shoulders and pat themselves on the back for their attempts, claiming a framework for future endeavors had been established.

 

I’m not sure if you’ve followed the shenanigans of this legislative session, but that’s pretty much EXACTLY how it unfolded.

 

I’m grateful for the words of encouragement from stakeholders. I’m glad that parents, community members, and even some businesses have contacted their legislators. I thank God for my students. They keep my going.

But you cannot possibly fully understand how low the morale is in the teaching profession in Oklahoma without being a part of it right now. Last week, I heard of yet another gifted veteran teacher in my field leaving this state for TX. On the same day, a first year teacher deferred accepting what is a very prominent, respected position in my field until she could visit a job fair in TX the following week. A few days later, another colleague informed me one of the openings in her school—a highly sought-after metro-area high school—had ZERO applicants. The job had been posted for more than two weeks.

 

Every day, administrators are making decisions about what programs to cut so they can keep the lights on. They’re trying to figure out how to squeeze more desks into classrooms that weren’t meant to hold 40 students. More districts are considering shorter school weeks and years, which hurt our most disadvantaged students and families. Teachers are getting shamed into accepting a pay-cut themselves in order to save other teachers’ positions. We’re making do with old textbooks, and any athletics or arts programs surviving the cuts are being asked to subsidize their entire program themselves. I entered this profession 12 years ago, and I cannot impart upon those of you reading this how drastically different it is.

 

So you’ll have to forgive me if I get a little short with people who try to tell me to stay positive, to refrain from criticizing our leaders, and to be patient. All that’s gotten us so far is a little bit deeper in the hole. I’m afraid next year it’s same song…second verse…a little bit louder…