A few weeks ago, I made the pronouncement that 2017 should be the Year of the Teacher. In light of that, and the fact that our state legislature convenes in a few short weeks, I’d like to offer some suggestions on how that body could demonstrate that Oklahoma indeed believes in and supports its teachers. It is heartening to read that the state legislature now understands that the people of Oklahoma want to have better pay for our teachers. I read of several proposals to phase in pay raises of as much as $10,000- that one being proposed by Putnam City’s own Senator David Holt. I’m sure there are pros and cons to the funding plans he has for making this raise a reality, but I am so grateful that he and others are actually thinking about how to fund the raises. People often say that you can tell what a person (think, “state”) values by where they spend their money. I am hoping that the state legislature hears the people of Oklahoma when they have clearly said they value public education.
Unfortunately, there are still people who believe that we in public education are excessively spending money on non-instructional expenses. In my mind, this is akin a non-medically trained person going into a doctor’s office, and telling her, “these instruments are non-medical expenses, and therefore you should eliminate them.” I am certain I am not qualified to determine whether my doctor needs four stethoscopes or not. What if they are different sizes? What if one is more sensitive than others? Clearly I don’t know, but THAT is precisely my point. I don’t know. One time, I worked in a doctor’s office. We had two autoclaves! TWO!! Why did we need two? Again, I don’t know. I trusted the experts because they knew what ancillary materials they needed to give the best care possible.
What I see in Putnam City are not enough non-teaching positions. We need more counselors, more teacher’s assistants, more instructional coaches, more bilingual education providers, more special services providers for our special needs students, and more technology trainers. These types of positions have already been cut drastically, and it has an effect on the classroom! When you have a child with special needs- be that a physical impairment or a mental deficiency- that child needs more attention from adults. With classrooms overcrowded in some cases, it is very difficult for a teacher to educate them all effectively, to give his best care so to speak, when his attention is divided between 27 or 30 or 35 kids. In this case a paraprofessional is needed to assist that student so she can learn to her optimum level. This is but one example, but it is repeated in every single building in every single district across our state I would bet.
I am not naïve enough to think that my call for more positions will happen this year. I know we are facing a budget short fall again due in part to falling revenue from oil and gas as well as our budget choices over the past few years, but I am imploring the state leaders to work together for more effective solutions while listening to the experts across the spectrum who can advise them of the reality of a typical school day. Otherwise, hand me that stethoscope so I can check ya’ll out!