When is the demonization of the teachers of this state going to stop? How many sacrifices do teachers have to make before the public realizes the anti-educator campaign is completely baseless, initiated by a small group of malcontents looking for someone to blame for society’s ills or the failures of their own offspring?
The effort over the past several years to decimate public education has done nothing to help Oklahoma. It has not attracted new industry, and it has not led to better pay for its workforce. On the contrary, the attitude toward public education – most clearly manifest in some of our state’s elected officials – has made several companies shy away from relocating here.
Whether we want to admit it or not, how a state or a community views its school system is a major factor in attracting industry and the kind of people we’d all like to have as neighbors. When teachers must dig into their own pockets to pay for school supplies, and when the results of mandated tests are more important than actual “learning,” we’ve lost a key selling point.
It sounds trite to say it, but as the bumper sticker reads, “Teachers care.” Otherwise, they wouldn’t accept comparatively low pay for one of the most important – and these days, most stressful – jobs around. By now, every observant individual has rejected the myth that teachers get summers off, and enjoy short workdays. Sure, a few might fit that bill; as we’ve said before, there are bad teachers, just as surely as there are bad electricians, bad CEOs, bad restaurant servers and bad newspaper editors. But by far, most teachers went into the profession because they wanted to make a difference in young people’s lives.
Anyone who’s been keeping up with current events over the past several months has witnessed how teachers literally put their lives on the line for their students. That was the case during the deplorable mass shooting at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults died. Most of the adults died defending children from the attack.
And just this past Monday, we saw the nightmare unfold in Moore as a tornado took out two elementary schools. Tahlequah High School science teacher Vickie Elliott described to the Press how her young niece’s life was saved by a teacher at Plaza Tower School who threw her own body on top of Elliott’s niece and two other kids. Other stories are circulating of teachers who protected their charges as the roof came off and walls disintegrated.
Here’s the critical point, one that must give us all pause: Most of these teachers in Newtown and Moore had children of their own, whose lives were also in jeopardy. While many of us would have abandoned our students to rush to retrieve our own kids, these teachers stayed – not knowing what was happening to their own little ones, or even knowing if they themselves would survive.
These teachers committed themselves to the noblest of professions, but many in our state Legislature have seen fit to slap them in the face repeatedly with budget cuts, layoffs, and stagnant compensation.
State Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, pointed out the irony in some last-minute tussling to get pay raises for Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers. While we acknowledge that troopers do deserve more money, we view House Speaker T.W. Shannon’s rationale as a huge gaffe. According to Brown, Shannon cited the “quick response” by the OHP during the aftermath of Monday’s storm as highlighting the need for a pay increase. And then, there’s the issue of some officials taking credit they don’t really deserve.
Brown told the Press: “We’re still not willing to help the teachers who evidently are willing to sacrifice their lives to save our children. I was sickened by the House Republicans’ press release yesterday, saying they were solely responsible. If you have to grab that much glory, God have mercy on you.”
Sen. Earl Garrison, D-Muskogee, agreed: “Whether we fund OHP trooper raises or not, there are other folks out there – like the teachers, the true heroes, who go above and beyond to protect those kids.”
It’s long past time for Oklahomans to drop the scales from their eyes and get behind those “true heroes,” who, in most cases, spend more time nurturing our children than we do ourselves. Let’s give teachers the support they deserve.