Friday February 11, 2022

What Teachers Need

Serving on the selection committee for State Teacher of the Year is a humbling experience. It is a reminder of the dedication and passion our public school teachers have for their students, from large and small districts across the state. The State Teacher of the Year will be announced from the group of twelve finalists later this spring. Here locally, nine finalists were announced last week for Oklahoma City Public Schools Teacher of the Year. One of these individuals will be named district Teacher of the Year on May 5 and will go on the vie for state teacher of the year next year. The nine finalists are diverse and all but one teaches at the secondary school level. All are outstanding representatives of Oklahoma City Public Schools.

The experience, expertise and education level of this year’s group of state finalists is phenomenal. The group has representation in secondary and AP math, elementary education, arts education, special education, English language arts, early childhood and alternative education. Each brings unique skill and talents to their classroom every day. Unprompted, each articulated the ways they connect with their students on an individual level and the value that brings to the educational experience. Also unprompted, they each shared the social emotional challenges students face, which has been made worse by the pandemic. A side note that has to be mentioned here: SB1442, authored by Sen. Shane Jett, would bar public schools from using federal, state or private funds to promote concepts of social emotional learning. This legislation is not good for kids and I wish we’d have known about this and had been able to ask our finalists about this during the interviews. I’m certain we’d have heard the same response from each of them.

The selection committee asked the finalists to share ways our state could help teachers. There was common ground in these answers as well. They did all mention pay, even though most were gracious about the legislature’s pay advancements a few years ago. None said this, but the point should be made, that teachers have more formal education than the average business leader. They don’t really get all summer off and have shorter days either, by the way.  Pay aside, though, the larger theme was respect and appreciation. From simple acts of gratitude to larger acts of support and impact for their classrooms, these teachers appreciate knowing that their work is seen and appreciated. They would do the work anyway, but a little gratitude goes a long way.

As the legislative session kicks off and conversations continue in community rooms and board rooms about what is best for our schools, let’s remember to ask our teachers and educators what they need.  It is too easy to be on the outside criticizing and playing political football with their lives and the lives of those they serve…our children.

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