Tuesday May 16, 2023

Teacher Appreciation Needs Community and State to Deliver Words and Action

The Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation hosted our annual Stars of Education event last Thursday on the eve of Teacher Appreciation Week. There was a celebratory feel in the Clara Luper Center as the Southeast High School Drumline played and everyone in the room was celebrating OKCPS’s teachers, support staff, volunteers, community partners and outstanding principals for going above and beyond for our students.

The evening culminated with the recognition of nine finalists selected from all the OKCPS building site Teachers of the Year. Each of these nine stands out as wonderful and unique representatives of the nearly 2600 teachers in a school district filled with 34,000 students in 63 school buildings placed across 135.5 square miles in our city. These 2600 teachers show up each day to educate, love and nurture our students, no matter what their needs are. They didn’t sign up for this job for the money, though action should be taken to pay them more. They followed their hearts into this profession, believing they could be a catalyst for shaping the future. Believing they could make a difference for kids.

Our nine finalists described themselves and their teaching philosophy with words like service, relationships, meaningful connections with students, compassion, rigor, character, academic gains, student engagement, growth mindset, tenacity, perseverance, empathy, support, guidance, gratitude, mentorship, and love of learning. Each has a unique story and came to teaching in their own way. Each pour all they can into their students to help build them into the successful citizens we need for our future. Their stories can be found here https://www.okckids.com/stars-of-education-teacher-of-the-year/.

Our OKCPS 2023 Teacher of the Year Felix Linden is an OKCPS graduate of Star Spencer High School. He knows the challenges of many of our students and has lived them himself. He is currently the lead English Language Arts teacher at F.D. Moon Middle School and also has an after school leadership academy where he stresses to his students the importance of giving back. The morning after he was named Teacher of the Year, he was taking his students to work on a beautification project at a NE OKC park. He tells them that to graduate and be great, you have to participate.

Kimberly Banz, OKCPS’s outgoing Teacher of the Year, sent a message to all of the nine finalists on the eve of Stars of Education thanking them for their contributions. She told them how impressed she was by the fact that when asked what they lacked in their classrooms during the interview portion of the selection process each of them in their own ways answered with, “I find a way to make it happen.”

As the noise about public education continues at and around 23rd and Lincoln, it’s important to remember the positive stories that aren’t highlighted nearly enough and the many ways our teachers continue to show up for our kids every day. We often hear teachers called heroes and that is true. We should thank them for their service through words and action. We should pay them and treat them (and everyone working in education) like the professionals they are. We should change the old adage to, “Those who CAN teach.”

–Mary Mélon-Tully, President & CEO of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation.

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