BY SHARON MARTIN
In Mary Fallin’s first State of the State Address, she said that “Oklahoma too often comes up short when it comes to quality education.” I couldn’t agree more. We come up short on funding. We come up short on respect. We come up short on truth-telling.
Full disclosure: I’m an Oklahoma teacher. I’m overlooked when reform needs to take place. I’m blamed when things go wrong.
Oklahoma teachers have to meet the same standards to be highly qualified as teachers in any other state. And most teachers in Oklahoma meet the standards. In fact, I’ve never taught a class for which I didn’t meet the highly qualified standards, and I don’t know anyone who has. I have known some incompetent teachers, but not many. Most of the Oklahoma teachers I know are qualified, hardworking, and worth a lot more than they are being paid.
Many Oklahoma teachers have advanced degrees despite the fact that getting a graduate degree pays the Oklahoma K-12 teacher very little. The year I got my MA and Reading Specialist certificate, my take-home pay went down. The raise I got for my graduate degree was less than the increase in my insurance premium. And still, Oklahoma teachers pursue advanced degrees because they value education.
Oklahoma ranks ninth in the number of National Board Certified teachers. Tammy Lane, a fifth-grade teacher from Glencoe, told me that the rigorous certification process transformed her as a teacher.
She added, “I got the scholarship from the Commission for Teacher Preparation for my entry fee – which was $2,500 – that was in ‘04. I finished my master’s degree in 2009 and it was a breeze compared to going through boards!”
Oklahoma teachers, who rank 47th in teacher pay, were offered scholarships to pursue board certification and a $5,000 per year stipend for 10 years if they became certified. Every year, the board certified teachers have to wait to find out if the Legislature will fulfill its promise to them. The Legislature plays games with the stipends, and the $5,000 check is often far less than $5,000. Now, the Legislature has voted to suspend the scholarship and the stipend for new board certified teachers, at least for the next two years.
But we still blame the teachers.
Oklahoma teachers work under trying circumstances. We teach students to read and to write, often without the use of a functioning library or an available computer lab. But it’s our fault if students can’t write a decent paper. Instead of money to pay reading specialists, literacy schemes are promoted by legislators. When the one-size schemes fail to deliver results, guess who gets blamed?
Just once, I’d like to hear a legislator say, “We have many excellent educators in this state, educators that qualify to teach in any state in the U.S., and they do the best they can with the pitiful support that we give them.”
Just once, I would appreciate the truth.
– Sharon Martin lives in Oilton, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer