Saturday, March 10, 2018

"New Oklahoma Teacher Vows"

I often say I have the smartest friends, and I am sharing another piece by another smart teacher. Amber McMath lets the world in on the super secret vows all new teachers in #oklaed must swear before they can teach. But, you know what? We're writing new vows. Now.

Dear Fellow Oklahomans,

I think it’s time we come clean. You deserve to know. With heated conversations spreading and uncertainty looming, we teachers can put an end to this with the truth. Here goes.

Prior to your first day in the classroom as an Oklahoma teacher or school employee, you undergo a special ceremony. You dress in your finest teacher jumper, apple embroidery required. Cake and punch is served.

But most importantly, veteran teachers administer the New Oklahoma Teacher Vows. They read as follows:

The Vow of Poverty

Do you, new Oklahoma teacher, vow to live a life of poverty, not receiving a raise for over a decade? You will purchase your clothes secondhand or deeply clearanced and your food in generic brands and drive a beat-up clunker of a car. You will observe teachers in surrounding states making considerably more than you. You will decide at some point that you want money to do things like see movies or travel or pay for your son’s baseball team fees or daughter’s Girl Scout troop dues. So you will pick up a side hustle gig. Perhaps you will sell nutritional supplements or beauty products. You might dedicate your summers to a retail job or your evenings to private tutoring. Whatever it is, it will fill every last minute that you’re not working for your students or being with your family. However, that cost is worth it to compensate for the discrepancy in your pay and your desire to maintain a middle-class life.  

I do.

Do you, new Oklahoma teacher, vow to spend a large portion of your paycheck on your family’s health insurance? If you insure your spouse and two children, you will pay from $821 (least expensive plan offered) to $2,003 (most expensive plan offered) for health insurance each month--just for your spouse and children. (Dental/vision not included.) If your family is on your spouse’s health insurance and he/she unexpectedly passes away, you will make so little that your only option will be the state’s subsidized health insurance SoonerCare, which you most easily qualify for.

I do.

Do you, new Oklahoma teacher, vow to use your own money to provide for the optimal functioning of your classroom? You will provide every instructional or motivational item that covers your walls. You will purchase books to fill your shelves to supplement the already underfunded library. You will buy basic supplies like markers and glue sticks along with extras that will make the day run more smoothly like candy and cardstock. You will pay your own registration and travel expenses to attend professional developments, conferences, and workshops that will make you a better teacher. When possible, you will use your time to write highly competitive grants and beg local businesses for handouts. (Not to mention buy cookie dough from the band kid and candy bars from the choir kid because those programs are so deeply underfunded you do whatever you can to help your colleagues and their students.)

I do.

The Vow of Priority

Do you, new Oklahoma teacher, vow to do more with less? When given a mandate from the state legislature or school board that does not come with funding, you will execute said directive without question. You will have less desks, less books, less paper but more students, more standards, and more assessments. You will come in early and stay late. You will sponsor the club, do the extra unpaid lunch duty, mentor the first year teacher, serve on the committee, and attend the summer workshops. You will do more with less because you know the students deserve the best education possible.  Your students will be your first priority at all cost.

I do.

The Vow of Placating the Politicians

Do you, new Oklahoma teacher, vow to not ruffle any feathers with politicians? You will do your job and your job alone. You serve at the pleasure of the public. You will not throw glorified temper tantrums about your pay. You will not be so tacky as to leave for another state, thus abandoning the good people of Oklahoma. You will not bother legislators with plans and proposals about fixing education. They are busy. You will accept that the state legislature, as they say, is doing everything they can to fight for education in our state. You will definitely not make ignorant suggestions of how to manage the state’s revenue or where to find new revenue sources.  That’s above your pay grade. You may politely call and write to your legislators encouraging them to support public education. You will most definitely not “walk out” on those sweet innocent children in the name of protesting, raising awareness, or advocating for better funding.

I do.

There you have it.

“We knew what we were getting into,” you said.

“You knew what you signed up for,” you said.

You’re right. We did.

Fortunately, some of us have landed in affluent districts whose successful bond measures and generous community donations have shielded us from the extremes of this oath. Meanwhile some of us are serving in districts so poorly funded that this oath barely scrapes the surface of how dire it is.

But no matter the size of the district, the salary, or the tax base. No matter the grade level or taught or degrees earned. No matter the state representative or political affiliation. Oklahoma teachers are united today having written our own vows.  And we’re adding one powerful word: NOT:

We do not accept these terms. We do not vow to live and work like this.

We do not promise to uphold our end of the deal until the state upholds its.  

We  do not walk out on our students: we walk for them, we walk beside them, we walk until they are regain their rightful place as the first priority of Oklahomans.

We do not stop until something is done, until those tasked with managing the revenue of this great state start managing the revenue of this great state.

We do not.

Amber McMath has taught in Oklahoma for 9 years. She works at the absolute best school in the state, the Owasso Seventh Grade Center, where she has the honor of serving reading students. Her husband teaches Algebra in Owasso, and her son, who is the light of their lives and quite advanced for his age of two, will hopefully one day serve in a profession where he doesn’t have to write a letter like this. McMath also shares free lesson plans and resources for middle grades ELA teachers at

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

"Stop Equating Teachers with Martyrs"

 I have been relatively quiet over the talk of a teacher walk-out. I have rallied, marched (including in 1990 for HB 1017). I have visited the Capitol and talked to legislators. I've attended committee meetings and floor debates. I've made my position clear: I'm an education voter. Despite our visits and calls, teachers (and support personnel and all state workers) continue to be ignored as ideologues stick to their 'trickle down' theories. Our state MUST have new, recurring revenue. Our state must take care of our people, and especially our children.

I read Beth Wallis's post last night on Face Book, and felt she expressed the collective frustration of our teachers...not only for themselves, but for their students. Our students deserve better than this status quo. I support Beth and her colleagues. I support my Grands' teachers and schools.

More school districts are coming forward, ready to support some kind of action. 

We will need parents and students and communities to join us. Teachers want to teach, not strike But teachers want to pay their bills too. And they want their students to thrive.

I give you the passion and eloquence of Beth Wallis:

With the imminent threat of a statewide teacher walk-out on the way in Oklahoma, let me take the time to let everyone know what today was like for me, the average Oklahoma teacher.

I woke up this morning to a bank account in the red because a gas bill had accidentally deducted twice-over this month. My gas bill isn't extravagant, but 2x means that my once-a-month public school paycheck can't budget for any sort of emergency. I can always wait more tables, right? Maybe sell some plasma? At least I don't have massive student loan payments like most teachers who are working their whole lives literally to pay off the training it took to get them the job in the first place. I file this all away, compartmentalize it, and tell myself that somehow I'll work it out.

Over the weekend, I was informed that one of my kindergartners died and her twin sister is in critical condition. I teach their classes every week. This is the third student of mine in four years that has passed and it never gets easier. We love these children, we care for them,  we will protect them with our bodies from bullets and tornados. We watch every school shooting go by, wondering if our district will be next; wondering if we'd be able to save them all before inevitably getting shot ourselves. We wipe their noses and dry their tears. We hold their hands and do everything we can to make sure they grow up to be strong, successful adults. We stay after school for hours listening to middle and high-schoolers crying over their parents' divorces or identity struggles, taking on the roles as therapist and advocate. We truly, genuinely, and deeply care for their happiness and wellbeing. I file this all away; compartmentalize it; and tell myself that somehow it'll all work out.

I'm a band director and our biggest contest of the season to date is tomorrow. The kids are stressed; the directors are stressed. If we don't make the scores we need, we won't be advancing to State contest. The energy in the band room is high, the tension is even higher. Our seniors want so badly to go to State contest; I can't imagine letting them down. I'm dealing with having to reassign parts last minute because of eligibility, hoping things will finally come together tomorrow... but I don't know if it will. I file this all away, compartmentalize it, and tell myself that somehow it'll all work out.

After school, our district held a meeting on potential action. Emotions ran high. Teachers are torn between doing what needs to be done for the schools and kids, and in turn putting a major burden on the community in the process. How will those kids eat? What about parents who work all day? Our first instinct as teachers is to do anything to protect the kids. But it's gotten to the point now, we can no longer keep filing it all away, compartmentalizing it, and hoping it'll all work out in the end. Because every year we do, and every year our State Legislature absolutely and totally fails all of us. And every year, we file it all away, compartmentalize it, and we're told that somehow it'll all work out.
Full stop.

Let me tell y'all right now, *we have waited, and waited, and waited*, and this is never going to work itself out.

Oklahoma has set a NATIONAL record for the highest cuts to education ever seen, period. We're nearly last in per-pupil spending, and we're DEAD LAST in teacher salary. If you think this is about greedy Oklahoma teachers who drive Mercedes-Benzes and just put a down payment on a summer home, you're dead wrong. Our students don't have BOOKS, guys. Our classrooms are sitting 30 deep and my district has it MADE compared to any of the major public schools in the state (40-50 students per class).

We had over 1,800 emergency certifications this last year in the state. You think your kids are being taught by the most qualified, experienced teachers? They're gone. The few of us who've stayed behind do it ONLY for the kids. Oklahoma kids DESERVE quality, compassionate education and I will provide that as long as I am able... but that's not going to be forever. What if I were ever to want kids of my own? I can't even afford an extra gas bill, much less provide for a child. I'm nearly 30 with a Masters degree and still live in a rent house with a roommate in a state with one of the lowest cost-of-livings in the country and I will never be able to afford an actual mortgage if I stay here.


We are professionals. We are trained, educated, hardworking professionals who deserve to be paid for the work we do. We're expected to work before and after our contracted hours every single day to get our grades in and plan for quality instruction, but most of us pray that our car can run off fumes just one more day?

We're expected to take bullets for students but most of us can barely make rent?

Yes, we work with children. Yes, we care deeply about those children and will without hesitation put our lives and our own time on the line so that they stay safe and cared-for. I just don't understand why we're expected to do this all for pennies. No, none of us got into this profession "for the money".  But we still have to feed our families, and a government-salaried, full-time job that requires college education and certification should at bare minimum provide for a middle-class life, and *it just doesn't*.  And if you can't see how that has created a massive vacuum of teachers in this state, and how your children are being majorly affected by the enormous exodus of educators to the surrounding states (starting around $15k more for nearly or exactly the same cost of living), you've got to be walking around with your fingers in your ears.

It's not just educators who are suffering. It's YOUR children, Oklahoma. YOUR children's art programs are being cut. YOUR children don't have music anymore. YOUR children are splitting a math book between three other students. YOUR children's track coach left for Texas and your district can't afford to replace him, so your program no longer exists. YOUR children are playing on equipment that is twenty-years old and riding on buses that are older than you are. YOUR children are being taught by emergency-certified teachers hired by districts that STILL have job openings (Oklahoma, in MARCH, still has over 500 certified teaching positions that have not been filled), who are desperate to fill those spots with any applicant. YOUR children are drowning in classrooms 30, 40, or 50 students deep while teachers exhaustively try to teach every student at every level.

Enough is enough.

We are taking action because Oklahoma will die without it. 

We are taking action because the students of Oklahoma deserve it. 

We are taking action because our legislature has proven to us that it's never just going to "work itself out", because they've had damn well over a decade to figure this out.

Oklahoma: your educators, your children, and your communities are desperate for your immediate attention. And if you don't give it to us...

We'll demand it.

Beth is a full-time Assistant Band Director at Morris Public Schools. This is her fourth year teaching after graduating with her Bachelors of Music Education, and Masters of Music in Conducting Performance from Oklahoma State University. She makes music by day and hangs out with her dog, or runs the nearby trail in her free time.