No easy answers for Oklahoma teachers situation

Tom Fink

As the Oklahoma teacher walkout enters its fourth day, parents of public high school students may be growing restless—wondering how long schools will be out of session and lawmakers and educators come to an agreement.

While lawmakers did sign off on a $6,000 annual pay raise for educators, teachers converged on the state capitol Monday to voice their dissatisfaction with years of cuts to education and lack of support from those allocating funding to public education.

Having heard strong opinions on both sides of the walkout, it’s clear that there aren’t going to be any easy answers, or at least answers that are reached without some ground given on one side.

As the situation exists, it’s one that has been years — OK, decades — in the making, with educators being tasked, year after year, with doing more with less and to essentially be thankful for it.

I’ll hardly be one to pretend to have simple solutions — there are none — to the situation, although even before rumblings of a walkout, I’d heard comments on both sides of the matter.

I have worked with and been in the presence of more than a few people whom I respected up to the point that they made disparaging remarks about the importance of teachers.

A few years ago, I was at a Rotary Club meeting, at which, an Oklahoma legislator was also seated. Before anyone else joined us, this legislator leaned closer to me and said “Let me ask you something, don’t you think school teachers are basically overpaid babysitters?” or words to this effect.

True story.

Apparently, this gentleman was unaware that I was both the son of a teacher and married to a (now-retired) teacher.

As such, I can attest first-hand the lengths to which educators go for their students, i.e., your children, sacrificing their time before and after school hours, weekends, many summer days (dispelling the “summers off” myth which, as Mark Twain said about reports of his death, are greatly exaggerated).

To know that we’re in a state which values education and its teachers — the profession which teaches the fundamentals for every other profession — as little as it does, as reflected in salaries, is disappointing to say the least.

I can’t speak for every teacher as having the commitment and dedication that my father or my wife had — there are those who don’t take their responsibilities as seriously as others — but the same could be said of any profession: lawmakers, manufacturers, journalists, lawyers, mechanics, or others, and to think that the best teachers would resort to leaving the state to make a living is unthinkable.

Would you want a heart surgeon whose “just OK” to operate on you or would you want the best you could find? Why would anyone not want the best educators possible to teach their — our — children, and this, coming from someone whose children have already gone through the public school system and are out of it.

Whatever the outcome between the standoff between legislators and educators, I can only hope that the outcome is ultimately for the future of Oklahoma. Translation? I stand with Oklahoma teachers.

Tom Fink is a Claremore Progress reporter.

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