Oklahoma has taken its share of lumps in the ed debates. Their legislature is not quite as determined to burn public education to the ground as are the legislatures of North Carolina or Florida. It's not quite as committed to cashing in on the charter revolution as Ohio. But Oklahoma remains in the grip of reformster baloney, and teachers are tired and frustrated. The word 'frustrated" comes up rather a lot. And teachers are doing something with that frustration.
Word has been spreading since April-- teachers are running for elected office.
Meet, for instance, Kevin McDonald, an English teacher at Edmond Memorial High School.
“Its becoming apparent to more and more educators that to be heard we need to be in the conversation, not outside of the conversation trying to talk at people,”says McDonald.
“Teaching is what I want to do,” he said, “But I’ve come to a point where my ability to teach is being compromised by legislative decisions.”
So he's running for Senator Clark Jolley's seat. Jolley is a third-term congressman who won his last election with 79% of the vote. He serves as a member of the education committee and chairman of appropriations. It is entirely possible that he is not ripe to be unseated. But at a bare minimum, challenging the GOP senator has given McDonald a chance to put school finances in the election discussion.
And finances are a touchy subject in Oklahoma. Well, the Common Core was one source of many bunched-up panties, and they pushed back hard on VAM, but they have had a bad several years when it comes to teacher pay and oddly enough, teacher recruitment and retention. John Croisant, a sixth grade in Tulsa, cites it as a reason for running for an open House seat.
“For me, it’s personal,” said 39-year-old Republican John Croisant, a
sixth-grade geography teacher in Tulsa Public Schools who said he’s seen
several of his colleagues leave Oklahoma to take teaching jobs in
neighboring states for more money. “It’s not that we don’t want to
teach. They’re going across the border and they’re able to make $10,000
more each year for their families.”
The teachers have held public sessions to promote their candidacies and their issues, and they have been assertive about spreading the word about candidates. For instance, if you want to run down some information about the education-positive candidates, you can search through the pages of noted OK blog Blue Cereal Education for a host of candidate profiles (marked with the hashtag #OKElections16).
It's a lesson for all of us. As much as teachers tend to shy away from politics and dream of just closing the door and ignoring the world outside, it's politics that set the rules that increasingly intrude on our classrooms. Simply making a contribution to the political action committee of the union is not enough (or, in the case of some unions and some races, not even helpful). We have to speak up. We have to promote the folks that stand for what we value. We have to do our homework and make hard choices (perfect candidates, it turns out, show up as often as perfect humans).
Oklahoma's primaries are next week. My best wishes to the education candidates-- I hope they do well. But even if they don't do well, they have already done good by making the education discussion part of the political discussion. That in itself is an achievement; as we've seen in the last year, no matter how important we think education issues are, getting politicians to talk about them is like trying to get my labrador retriever to talk about existential angst and third world monetary policy.
We have complained for decades that education discussions are being held without any teachers in the room, and we are right to complain. But it is not enough to keep waiting for our invitation to arrive-- we need to get out there and shoulder our way into the arena. Thank you to the teachers of Oklahoma who have worked to do that.