I followed the painted paw prints down the hallway of Central Junior High School for the first time in 2007 when I launched my career as a teacher of English language arts. I knew not the challenges I would face as an educator; I knew only how excited I was as a former writer and editor to share my love of literacy with the young adolescents who would filter in and out of my classroom each day, in and out of my life each year. The only thing better than passing along my passion for the pen was how privileged I considered myself to be blessed with the possibility of making a difference in young lives.
Blessed indeed. Blessed to watch them blossom as readers and writers. Blessed to promote positivity and extend encouragement. Blessed to cultivate them and congratulate them, to console them and to cry with them. And, yes, even blessed to place calls to DHS on their behalf, because I was the adult some felt safe turning to with situations no child would ever encounter in an ideal world.
But this world is not ideal. And the vigor with which I approach the job I have come to view as a ministry has diminished over the years as have the conditions under which I teach. Building relationships with students, the hallmark of good teaching, becomes increasingly difficult in direct proportion to the rising number of students who filter in and out of my classroom each day, in and out of my life each year.
Never mind the troublesome task of making ends meet as the single mother of three on an Oklahoma educator’s salary who has not received a single raise during her 10-year teaching career. Never mind the books and snacks and other miscellaneous supplies I have purchased out of my own pocket despite being underpaid and underappreciated. Never mind how many extra hours I put in, regularly working alongside our evening crew of custodial staff, which has been slashed due to budget cuts while continuing to clean up after our growing body of students. Never mind the steady stream of ever-changing state standards as well as testing formats and rubrics that liken the delivery of instruction and preparation for state testing to an archery contest at which we aim arrows and send them spiraling toward moving targets year after year. Never mind the sliding scale of testing scores, which has been altered after tests were administered and results reported to prevent too many of Oklahoma’s finest from passing with a score of proficient. Never mind our governor’s rude remarks portraying me as lazy and greedy and ungrateful, comparing me to a teenager who sulks in attempt to secure a better car because I expect no less for my children, my students, and myself than the value and loyalty she demonstrates for her cabinet members, such as the significant pay raise she approved and strings she pulled for Preston Doerflinger, Secretary of Finance, despite his blatant disregard for the law, not to mention my profession.
Mind this … Oklahoma children deserve better. They deserve the best resources – technology and textbooks and teachers. Instead, they filter through hallways alongside painted paw prints and in and out of classrooms that are overcrowded and underfunded. They find themselves over-tested and undervalued. Send the message to Oklahoma’s most precious commodity that they are worth it. Fund their future.