The decidedly rude title for this blog piece was inspired by a dear friend who will go nameless. I’ve changed one word to give it a PG-13 rating, but I want my frustration to be easily understood, and sometimes strong language makes a point more quickly…so forgive my crudeness. And remember…I changed ‘the’ word.
Every time I talk to a lawmaker…well, probably not every time, but close…I’m told with a smile that said lawmaker has a mom or an aunt or a grandmother who was (operative word) a teacher. Then I’m told how much said lawmaker loves and respects teachers. I sit with a stiff smile, thinking about my family…I’m fourth-generation educator; my son and his wife are fifth. So is their cousin. We are and were teachers.
I’m not feeling the love from these lawmakers who drag out their relatives who USED to be teachers as evidence of their respect for my profession. I watch their actions. I watch their votes. I listen to their speeches on the floor of the House and Senate.
So, we are loved and respected and valued? Then explain these facts:
- Oklahoma has cut funding to education more drastically than any other state in the nation, long before the current oil crisis hit. 23.6% for those of us keeping score.
- Oklahoma teachers are currently paid some of the lowest salaries in the nation.
- The relatively low cost of living does NOT help teachers’ buying power. Salaries are even lower
- Oklahoma has a teacher shortage which demands over 900 emergency certificates be issued, to get a warm body in classrooms with kids.
- Oklahoma policy maker continue to fast-track alternatively certified teachers into the classroom, leaving many with no support and dooming them to short careers.
- Oklahoma teachers qualify for SNAP benefits for their children
I’ve asked teachers to talk about their struggles to support their families and continue to work as teachers. The stories are heart-rending. We ask so much of our educators. Demand so much. And we pay them so little.
“I just hit $40,000 with my bachelor's and master's degrees and 16 years of experience. That is less than half the national average for people with the same education and years of experience”
Ironically, the figures will tell us that $44,000 is the average teacher’s salary in Oklahoma. Believe me when I say, a teacher with 16 years experience and a master’s degree is NOT the average.
“My contract before taxes is $29,908 with a bachelor's degree in education. I'm a single mom of two young boys…. None of us went into teaching for the money, but we still need a reasonable pay for the amount of work we actually do.”
And this post that started our conversation:
“My salary after taxes is $27,800. That’s with a college degree and a graduate certification. I could make more at Chipotle. I am paid less than what is considered a liveable income for Oklahoma's already low cost of living. I have student loans. I have bills. I will never own a home. I will always live paycheck to paycheck. I'm glad I don't have to raise a family on this. I deserve better.”
Throughout my entire career I said my salary would cover the mortgage and some of the bills one month, and the mortgage and some other of the bills the next. I could not have supported my family of four on what I earned. I would have been forced to leave teaching, or leave the state. This is the reality for far too many of our educators now…get out of teaching, or leave the state.
So, to review…Lawmakers love and respect us. They proudly tout family members who used to be teachers. They think the world of us…
They just will not pay us a living wage, support our classrooms, fund our schools. They won’t work to strengthen the profession. They won’t work for equitable education for all students in Oklahoma. They still want to play ‘choice’ games by starving the public schools and then giving wealthy parents tax dollars to take to private schools. They won’t be courageous leaders and commit to raising taxes, cutting loopholes, ending tax credits. They apparently won’t stop plans for a new arch and reflecting pool on Capitol grounds.
To these policy makers, I saw, with all the fatigue of an old woman with a 39-year-career in the classroom, “Fund us. Support us. Or STF (flip) U.”