Oklahoma teacher vacancies call for emergency measures

Oklahoma began this school year with 536 teaching vacancies in K-12 public schools. The fact that our classrooms are filling with people who aren’t even fully certified to teach astounds me. If you went to a public school in Oklahoma and had a properly certified teacher, feel grateful. As a product of public education myself, I look back on the myriad of amazing teachers I had before college as some of the people who truly did change my life. Who is filling the role now? Emergency teachers.
Emergency teachers are those who lack traditional training and proper certification. To become an emergency teacher, one only needs: a bachelor’s degree, “demonstrated” competence in the chosen field, $50 for the processing fee, transcripts and a resume. Generally, the idea is that districts only use them as a last resort because of their expedited, informal training. To put the 1400 in perspective, five years ago the state had a whopping 32 emergency teachers.
Oklahoma has seen many teachers taking flight across the Red River for Texas in recent years, including 2016 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Shawn Sheehan. The state regularly ranks either 48th or 49th in teacher salaries as budget cuts seem to always affect public education. Oklahoma cuts funding from its future when it does this; as legislatures decide K-12 education needs cut, they force kids, who have no choice, to deal with lackluster schooling.
Since 2011, the state has seen a 3000 percent increase in emergency teachers. The worst part is these teachers almost always leave the classroom by the third year of teaching. It creates a vicious cycle of constant vacancies in public schools. Statewide, It’s not fair to our children, who are our future. It is not fair to fully certified and properly trained teachers, who give all of their passion to education and don’t receive their due respect or compensation. A friend of mine from Texas who recently graduated from TU told me she would’ve loved to stay in Oklahoma to teach, but the pay difference is simply too large.
This brain drain is slowly killing us as a state. Oklahomans get educated here and leave for higher paying teacher jobs just across the border, while those from other states simply return to teach in their home states after getting degrees here. This state has great universities with wonderful education programs, so why can’t we provide well-paying, competitive jobs to people who get those degrees? If we’re going to continue to educate teachers in Oklahoma collegiate programs, should we not at least make them want to stay here?
Oklahoma State School Boards Association president, Roger Edenborough, put it well when he said “an over reliance on untrained teachers comes at a cost, and it’s our children who are paying the price. It’s [the heavy reliance on emergency teachers] a desperate stop gap, not a solution.” It’s a travesty that we don’t pay our teachers more, don’t invest in the future of our state (our own children), and continually lose qualified candidates to other states. If this keeps up, I shudder to think about the bleak future of Oklahoma public education.

Post Author: Alex Garoffolo