There comes a time when even people who are usually calm have had enough and can’t take anymore. It varies for each person, but this week it seems like a large majority of Oklahoma teachers have reached that point at about the same time. There’s been a lot of confusion on the details, but as that has been corrected, it has become clear that Oklahoma teachers want to walk out of their buildings in protest of underfunded schools and low pay.
Though the rhetoric is with the loudest voices, I am mindful that not all teachers agree with this proposal. Some are concerned about whether they will be paid while on a walkout. Others wonder how the children will fare without the school which often feeds them twice a day. Still others wonder if this will only make the community angry, turning against them.
In my experience, teachers are not typically the ones who rock the boat; they are the ones who make sure that everyone has a life preserver and is comfortable. They are not only teaching in school, they are running the PTOs, coaching sports, and teaching Sunday school on the weekends. Teachers ARE the community, they are us, and they are not taking this decision lightly.
What are we -- the rest of us -- to do when our teachers feel they have no other choice but to walk out of their classrooms? What are we to do when their average salary increase for a 20 year veteran comes to far less than 1 percent a year when the rising cost of insurance is figured in? What are we, the community, to do when education budgets have been cut so severely that many districts have cut school to 4 days a week? Is this the new normal that we choose to accept?
I heard a veteran teacher speaking on the radio this morning about how long teachers and their supporters have been asking for increases in education funding and pay. This hasn’t just been going on this year, she said, or the past few weeks. They have been asking for increases in funding and salary for years to no avail. Public education funding is down $172 million from what it was a decade ago! Wrap your head around that statistic from the OK Policy Institute, and then let me add that we have MORE children in our schools today than at that time!
I am sad that the teachers feel it has come to this, but I trust they’ve made a thoughtful decision. So what are we going to do?