Writing Is Hard Work

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  • Roger Colby

The Plight of a Red State Teacher

I’ve been teaching in Oklahoma for over 20 years. Oklahoma is what folks call a “red state” because it leans so far right-wing Republican that our government is run on trickle-down economics, separation of church and state is a pipe dream, and privatization of everything is completely fine and dandy.

Before you go calling me a commie, I love living in the U.S. and I am not a Democrat, but a dyed-in-the-wool Bull Moose Party guy (God bless you, Teddy). I also got into teaching for the joy of teaching students. I love being in the classroom, for I feel I am making a difference in my student’s lives on a daily basis.

However, I have watched the direction in which our GOP dominated legislature and governor are leading the state regarding education and I am feeling rather hopeless. It’s not just in my state, but public education is in trouble in every red state in the union. We teachers always hear from the GOP that “teachers don’t do it for the money” that “teaching is a calling”, and that “our teachers are underpaid and leaving the state in droves” so we need to fix it.

These are all lies spoken by a party that is currently dismantling public education in the name of “school choice” as they fund private corporations with public money meant for schools. Their corporate cronies get a cut, and that in turn causes me to believe that the motivation behind the GOP’s turn against public ed. is motivated by profit. Who allowed, for example, EPIC Charter School to exist? Republican dominated legislatures and a GOP governor, that’s who (The article here states that it was a “bi-partisan” effort, but at the time the Oklahoma Legislature had a GOP supermajority.)

It’s no wonder teachers leave the state. It is not because teachers outside the state can’t get certified here. That and making it easier for teachers to carry guns is not the answer. (They might not want to arm us and then forbid us to assemble in protest of their policies, though.) The teacher shortage is caused because of several reasons:

  1. Oklahoma Teacher Pay – Oklahoma still ranks lower than its neighboring states in teacher pay. Even with the raise we received after the walkout and the pitiful $1200 raise Governor (Anti-Vaxxer) Stitt pushed through, we are still lower than all the rest. The GOP will say that we are comparable to neighboring states because they factor in benefits into their totals of how much we are being paid. Insurance still goes up every year, and the state will only pay a percentage of our premiums.

  2. Retirement – Right now many retired teachers are struggling to make ends meet. I never will forget the story of teacher Brian Davis who moonlights as an Uber driver. He picked up an 86 year old retired teacher one day who was crying in his back seat saying she had to come up with $700 that month to pay her insurance because her retirement wasn’t cutting it. This beloved educator, a woman who had instilled the best in her students over a long career, was going to have to become a Wal-Mart greeter just to afford to eat and keep the lights on.

  3. Per Student SpendingOklahoma still falls dead last in per students spending. This means larger class sizes, less resources (Language Arts hasn’t seen a book adoption since 2008) and aging facilities to mention only a few items. My books in my classroom are so old that they actually contain out-dated articles on climate change and medicine.

  4. An All Out Attack on Public Schools – As laid out in their plans for state government and thereby federal government, the GOP is currently led by a political action committee/organization called ALEC. As laid out in this report, their goals for public education is to completely privatize it, remove teacher’s unions, and profit off of the taxpayer.

With these facts in mind, would anyone in their right mind want to attempt to be a teacher in a red state? Teachers are leaving Oklahoma in droves, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better anytime soon. We currently have a record 2,109 emergency certified teachers in the state and studies show it’s hurting our kids. Believe me, I’ve been attempting to find another solution to lower pay, a crappy retirement and being treated like a second-class citizen by my legislature for years. The problem is that if you have taught in the classroom as long as I have and you don’t have a masters degree, you are pretty much stuck.

Not to mention the fact that with 20 years teaching experience, all of my job connections are in education, I’m not “marketable” in other fields, and so I am pretty much stuck where I am unless I get a masters degree and become an administrator (which I don’t really want to do).

It seems that our legislature holds to the chauvinist idea that teachers are only women who are waiting around to get married and don’t need to make much money. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of the teachers I’ve worked with over the years have kids and a family. The men I work with are heads of households, many of them a father to several children. I am a father of four and my wife works as well. Together we try to make it, but it is very difficult financially. We don’t have a savings account, have a lot of debt, and do our best to stay ahead of things.

So what do I do? I suppose I could move to Texas or perhaps a blue state like Washington. The problem is that I have kids. I have a son who’s 20, and three daughters who are 18, 16 and 14. I can’t just up and move my family. I suppose I have to deal with it, write this article, and maybe pray. Hopefully the tide will turn in government in this state and balance things out better for us, but I’ll pour myself into my students, help them become thinking citizens, and hopefully they will change our red state to at least a happy shade of purple.

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