Wednesday, November 9, 2016

"There's a Pony in There Someplace"

A young father tried very hard to prepare his son for the ‘real world’ by providing challenging experiences. His son was a natural optimist and never learned the hard lessons Dad wanted him to learn…he always saw the bright side.

The father wracked his brains trying to think of something that would force his son to see the dark side, the unhappy side of life. He desperately wanted to toughen his son up so he would develop a jaundiced eye.

He thought he had a plan. For Christmas, he transported a four-foot high pile of horse manure into the house, right next to the Christmas tree. Surely, this, as his only present, would humble and humiliate the child and he could properly navigate the cold cruel world.

Christmas morning came, and the father told his son that there was one present for him by the tree. The child ran down the stairs, beheld the pile, and jumped up and down in glee.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!! This is the best present ever! Oh, Daddy. I love it!”

The mystified father dropped into his chair in confusion. A huge pile of manure as his only present, and the boy was ecstatic? How?

The father repeated…”This is your only present. This is all you get for Christmas.”

“I know!! I’m so excited!”

“Son, why are you happy to get a pile of manure for Christmas?”

“Oh, Daddy!! There’s a pony in there someplace!”

By nature, teachers are optimists...we go to school every day, determined to be a better teacher than the day before, and expecting to affect lives. 

But, we in #oklaed were given a pile of manure yesterday at the polls. And I’ve spent the day looking for the pony.

Our ‘teacher caucus’ bravely stepped up and ran for the legislature. They took on the better-established, better-funded incumbents. These teachers and family wanted to shift the conversation at the Capitol, and provide much-needed guidance when school reform was the topic of conversation.

Our teacher candidates knocked doors, created networks, learned to ask for money.  They navigated a whole new world of candidacy…and too many of them lost their races yesterday. Too many friends put their lives on hold to learn a new skill-set, and they came up short. I read post after post that started, “Well, the outcome was not what we wanted…”

My favorite candidate, Jacob Rosecrants, is a former student. I’ve known him since I was taller than he. I’ve watched him grow in confidence as a dad and a teacher. He stepped up, with the attitude, “I’ll win or I’ll learn.” He learned…he made a very strong showing against an established incumbent. He made me proud.  He learned. And he’s returning to his classroom to shepherd his students…

My Grand’s favorite candidate is Shawn Sheehan, her Algebra 1 teacher. He’s inspired a love of math…a willingness to persevere on tough problems. Shawn, last year’s Oklahoma Teacher of the Year is also returning to the classroom, and my Grand will have him for her teacher.

We lost some fantastic teacher-candidates, and I hope sincerely they stay involved in Oklahoma school politics and maybe even make another run for office.  We need their expertise and their courage.

There was a bright spot in my night. Mickey Dollens, one of the first teacher-candidates to announce a run.  I saw an interview where he talked about the books he’d studied on how to run for office. He attacked this challenge with energy and intelligence. He won. He will be representing HD93 in the next session of the legislature.

Seven educators won seats in the Senate and four in the House. Much smaller numbers than we’d hoped. But a start. I keep looking for that pony.  Eleven educators or family members will be joining the legislature, with the knowledge to affect policy.
We watched two State Questions with great interest…one was the penny sales tax question. Money generated would be used first, for a raise for all teachers, and then for other purposes. This was a tough one. I was against it before I was for it. None of us likes the regressive nature of sales taxes on the working poor. We all wanted another proposal to address the dismal teacher salaries in our state. Everyone said they had a plan…no one delivered. Signatures were collected and the question was placed on the ballot. Folks knocked doors, created short videos, and we were all feeling pretty positive. Then the attack ads appeared. Figures were manipulated…actually, figures were lied about. Innuendos surfaced about the groups providing funding for the Yes campaign…they were – gasp – charter supporters. That must mean the question is evil.

It was defeated. While early polling numbers showed support, the barrage of negative ads did their trick, and there will be no raise.

We heard many people say, “I support a teacher raise, but…” That but negates the introductory phrase. 

“I support a teacher raise, but…this is regressive.”

“I support a teacher raise, but…this is not the way.”

“I support a teacher raise, but…we need a better plan.”

“I support a teacher raise, but…if we vote yes, the legislature is ‘off the hook’ and won’t do their jobs.” 

Let me see…for ten years teachers have waited…and the legislature and the governors have ignored the need. Easily sliding off the hook.

The question was defeated. Teachers watched in abject sadness, knowing this was the only opportunity for a raise in the next several years.

I posted my frustration: “Looks bad for SQ779, so all you folks who said we need to wait for 'a better plan,' I suggest you get a teaching certificate quickly and jump into the classroom to fill in for all the career teachers who see this as a slap in the face. And then we'll wait for a 'better plan.'

Teachers returned to the classroom today with heavy hearts, and many with tears in their eyes. The voters had said, “NO” to any possibility of a raise.  Some told us they wanted the legislature to do their jobs. We would all love that. I, for one, am not holding my breath. I’ve waited and watched as half-hearted attempts are made, papers shuffled and nothing happens. Why would I trust them now? Why would any teacher in OK trust them?

We begged voters to vote YES and to vote FOR every pro-public education candidate on their ballot. Or, if they were voting NO, to vote for every pro-public education candidate…you already know how that went. The party in power solidified its lop-sided advantage in both houses.

Voters re-elected the same incumbents who’ve created the problem, and voted against the last hope for a raise for our teachers. We are told to wait…again…still.

Teachers are packing their bags, polishing their resumes, talking to friends in neighboring states. Preservice teacher candidates are choosing to bypass #oklaed as possible employment. It’s not hyperbole to say we will lose a generation of teachers in our state. I have former students who are now teachers. I watch them struggle with their decision to stay at home, or to pull up stakes and find a state that respects their educators. 

Do those voters care? How can we assume they do? They’re content to wait for that ‘better plan’ which will miraculously appear on the first day of the 2017 session.  We are not. We’ve had years of broken promises, of excuses. We are done. And many of us are moving. Or changing careers. With the full knowledge that the voters of our state are willing to wait for a ‘better plan’ as we hemorrhage teachers.
Today, I learned who financed the attack ads...those ads casting doubts on the groups funding the YES vote...those ads that just lied about facts. Lies that were parroted back at us all day today. The force behind the NO ads? Wait for it....Americans for Prosperity. Koch Brothers, ALEC. Sincere people were duped by the most cynical group of lobbyists in our country. And too many of my friends fell for it. And voted no. ALEC controlled this election. ALEC controlled the information and the voters. 

So, are there ponies in the manure pile that was the election night? Yeah…some new lawmakers who can make a difference.

But there was a giant pile of poo, also. Teachers were told ‘not now, wait, another time, maybe.’ We were told, ‘you’re not a priority.’ We were told to keep digging in that manure pile and maybe…