State and local education leaders hammered home the severity of the state’s teaching shortage and the need for continued engagement from parents in their children’s education Wednesday evening.
They stressed the importance of building relationships and the need to fight for more funding in education, even after the Oklahoma Legislature appropriated hundreds of millions of additional dollars as a result of teachers’ advocacy this spring during and before the two-week teacher walkout.
Just hours before the Oklahoma State Board of Education was set to approve 900 emergency certifications, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister was asked by the Tulsa World’s Wayne Greene how the state can rebuild its teaching corps.
“It starts with respect,” Hofmeister said to applause from more than 100 people who attended the Tulsa World’s forum on “How to be an Education Advocate” at OSU-Tulsa.
“This cannot be one year. We cannot address or make education a priority once every 10 years and expect to see higher state outcomes and remain competitive,” said Hofmeister. She noted that 46 percent of the state’s teachers are novices.
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist sat next to Hofmeister during the forum. Her district has struggled with turnover and could have as many as 276 emergency-certified teachers.
TPS administrators worked as classroom teachers on Wednesday, the first day of the semester, because not enough teachers were available. This is the third straight year this has happened.
“We are looking for people to take positions,” said Gist. “I contrast that with the state where I lived most recently (Rhode Island), where if we had a second-grade position, there would be 200 applicants. That’s not hyperbole. The difference in Rhode Island is that I would meet a teacher at the grocery store checking groceries because she had her certification and couldn’t find a job.
“Here I meet teachers at the grocery store because it’s their second job because they can’t make ends meet. That’s a wildly different story,” said Gist. “It puts a terrible, terrible strain on the organization. It puts a terrible strain on the experienced, certified, qualified teachers in the school.”
Just down the panel sat one of those certified teachers, Shaniqua Ray, the TPS Teacher of the Year. She said teachers need support and better pay, “which is what is going to keep you in the classroom.”
“If you’re having to work another job, how can (a teacher) be effective in the classroom?” asked Ray. “We also want to know that you care about our scholars, as well. If you care about our scholars, then we’re talking about the future here, and you need to invest in them now.”
The other panelists, Kathy Seibold, Impact Tulsa executive director; and Tristy Fryer, co-chair of the Bixby Parent Legislative Action Committee and administrator of Oklahoma Parents and Educators for Public Education, stressed the need for parents to be informed and to vote so education in Oklahoma can improve.