“Should I stay or should I go now? Should I stay or should I go now?” The Clash’s song plays in my head. Then the music switches to Anna Kendrick’s “Cup” — “You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.” These are the tunes that accompany my thought processes on whether or not I should continue to teach in the state of Oklahoma.
A few months ago, my wife and I obtained certification to teach in Texas. We love our school, our district, our city, our students, and their families, but what’s happening to education in the state of Oklahoma is criminal. And, the thing is, it’s not just education. The recurring budget deficits have reduced all core state services to scraps.
You don’t have to be a math teacher to know that our budget simply doesn’t work. So, last month, my wife and I went to a career fair in Texas and were overwhelmed with the options available to educators. I received quite the response when I introduced myself by saying, “My name is Shawn Sheehan, and I’m the 2016 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, and I’m considering relocating here.”
The Sheehans and many other educators in Oklahoma have been waiting a long time, hoping and praying that the state would do what’s right and find a way to fund education and other core services. We’ve asked for some sign of hope that things will get better and it seems unlikely. In fact, it seems quite the opposite — that things will get worse.
We want to stay and serve our students, but we will no longer feel guilt for wanting to provide for our family. We’re tired of the rhetoric and guilt tactics.
Of course, I knew teaching wasn’t a high-paying career, but I should be able to pay my bills. My work and talents are worth more than my salary.
Oklahoma’s low cost of living doesn’t offset the low pay. We spent a weekend in the Dallas metro area last month. We ate, shopped and looked at housing options. We could relocate, teach, and actually have money left over to put into savings.
I’d miss my students like crazy. I know they need me. Texas children need talented teachers, too. If Oklahoma was genuinely worried about its students, it would find a way to fund education immediately.
Last year, I was so proud to represent our great state as one of only four finalists for National Teacher of the Year. I was committed to countering the negative narrative surrounding education in Oklahoma, but now, I’m losing faith in our state’s desire to invest in our most valuable resource — our children.
This is my last call to action. This is my plea to business owners, medical professionals, community leaders and the public to stand up for our students and demand action from our legislators. We need your advocacy. Our children need your voice. And educators like me need a sign that things will get better before we leave for good.
Shawn P. Sheehan teaches special education mathematics at Norman High School. He was the 2016 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year and a finalist to be the national teacher of the year. This was originally published on Sheehan’s blog: shawnsheehan.wixsite.com/spsheehan