Open Letter to Oklahoma Voters and Lawmakers

I am a teacher. I teach English at the high school of an independent district within Oklahoma City. I love my job. I love your kids. I call them my kids. I keep blankets in my room for when they’re cold. I feed them peanut butter crackers, beef jerky, or Pop Tarts when Michelle Obama’s school breakfast or lunch isn’t enough to fill their bellies. I comfort them when they cry and I praise them when they do well and always I try to make them believe that they are somebody with unlimited potential no matter what they go home to when they leave me.

What do they go home to? Sometimes when they get sick at school they can’t go home because you and the person you’re currently shacking up with are too stoned to figure out it’s your phone ringing. Sometimes they go home to parents who don’t notice them, and those are often the lucky kids. Sometimes they go home to sleep on the neighbor’s back porch because your boyfriend kicked them out of the house and his dog is too mean to let them sleep on their own back porch. They go home to physical and verbal abuse. They go home looking for love and acceptance from the people who created them … and too often they don’t find it.

Many days your children bring the resentment they feel toward you to school with them and they act out against peers, property, or their teachers. When I call you I’m told, “When he’s at school he’s your problem.” Or you beat them, not for what they did, but because it embarrassed or inconvenienced you when I called.

Often, they stay at school with me for an hour and a half after the bell rings because they don’t want to go home to you. Reluctantly, they get on the two buses meant to take home students who stay for athletic practice, and they go away for a dark night in places I can’t imagine.

Over 90 percent of the kids in my high school are on the free or reduced lunch programs. The walk hand-in-hand with Poverty and its brother Violence. They find comfort in the arms of your lover, Addiction. They make babies before they are old enough to vote. Or drive. And they continue the cycle you put them in.

Sometimes I get through to a student and convince her that education is the way out of this spiral of poverty and despair. Then you slap them down for wanting to be better than you.

And you, the lawmakers of this state, you encourage it. I hold two college degrees and have been on my job for 10 years. I was our school’s Teacher of the Year in 2014. I teach kids to read the ballots that keep you in your elite position. I teach them to look behind your lies and rhetoric. I teach them to think for  themselves. The compensation of me and my colleagues ranks 49th in the nation, and is the lowest in our region. I currently earn about $18,000 per year less than I did in 2002, my last year as an office worker for an energy company that merged with another and eliminated my job. I feel like my life has purpose now, but, as I turn 50 this year and wonder how I’ll put my own high school-age kids through college, I have to consider giving up helping scores of kids per year so I can afford to give my own children what they need to find satisfaction in their lives.

And what do you do? You whittle away at education funding. You waste the taxpayers’ money so that our great state faces unbelievable shortfalls and massive budget cuts. You take home a salary that ranks 10th highest in the nation among state legislators and you are inept, uncaring, and an abomination to our democratic form of government.

Those kids who stay after school with me? After Spring Break 2016 they can’t do that. You see, our district can no longer afford to pay to run those late buses. Your kids wade through garbage in the halls because we had to release the custodial crew that cleaned at night. Oh sure, we could make the kids clean up after themselves, except our administrators live in fear of lawsuits, and making a kid pick up the lunch tray he threw on the floor has been considered forced child labor. There’s also the very real possibility that a belligerent kid will just take a swing at one of us — again — because he or she wasn’t taught respect for authority at home. Did I mention how we had to let go of our security officers because we could no longer afford them? We now share one single solitary Oklahoma County Sheriff’s deputy with our ninth grade center and our middle school and alternative school. That’s one deputy for about 1,300 students.

We can no longer afford rolls of colored paper or paint or tape to make signs to support and advertise our Student Council activities. This fall our football team won’t charge through a decorated banner as they take the field because we can’t afford to make the banner. There won’t be any new textbooks in the foreseeable future. Broken desks won’t be replaced. We’re about to ration copy paper and we’ve already had the desktop printers taken out of our rooms.

We live in fear that our colleagues will leave us, not just because they are our friends, but because the district wouldn’t replace them even if we could lure new teachers to our inner-city schools during the teacher shortage you have caused. We fear our classes doubling in size.

We fear becoming as ineffective as you are. Not because we can’t or won’t do our job, like you, but because you keep passing mandates to make us better while taking away all the resources we need just to maintain the status quo. We fear that our second jobs will prevent us from grading the papers or creating the lesson plans we already have to do from home. We fear our families will leave us because we don’t have time for them.

I am the chairman of my department. My teachers could easily take other jobs in the private sector where they would make more money, but so far they have chosen to remain teachers because they love working with kids. How long will they continue to put the needs of students over the needs of family? It’s something we’re all dealing with. How far will you push us? What will you do without us when we leave the classroom or leave the state? It’s happening. You know it’s happening, and yet you do nothing.

You, the representatives, senators, and governor of Oklahoma are creating a population of ignorant peasants fit only to work in the oil field and factories you bring to this state by promising those businesses won’t have to pay their fair share of taxes. You leave our kids in a cycle of poverty and abuse while your pet donor oil companies destroy the bedrock beneath us, shaking our homes to pieces while you deny your part in all of it.

Parents, I beg you to love your children the way we love your children. Vote for people who will help teachers educate and nurture the kids we share. We can’t do it alone anymore.

795 responses to “Open Letter to Oklahoma Voters and Lawmakers”

  1. Very well said…Proud to be part of your team!

  2. […] Click here to view original web page at […]

  3. I’m crying, deeply in my very core. The desperation of our life’s purpose, the quality of our children’s future. All hijacked. All stopped. Like it’s nothing.
    It’s nothing. Nothing to the people we hired and pay to do a job. To use the money collected from our work, our investment in our homes, our communities, even to the food necessary for our survival. They say that they are “Oh, so sorry, it’s so unfortunate” when they keep cutting, cutting, more, more, just another percentage of “the budget”, but they don’t stop doing it.
    Please share this. This is real. It’s really happening, right now, every day, until we call out these people, our elected officials. Until they are held responsible for the ruination of our educational system, a golden right promised to all citizens. But not in Oklahoma. We do not deserve this, not our children, nor our teachers.
    It’s time, past time, to confront and demand change from the State and the legislators who have failed us so utterly. Call, write, text, email, stand on the school grounds with signs!
    And thank you, Steven Wedel, for your persistence in teaching our children!

  4. Steve,

    We both were the father to my beautiful daughter Amanda…me at home and you, her school dad. Between the both of us, we did a good job. She is a 4.0 scholarship kid in the middle of her sophomore year in college. I credit you brother, as much as her parents for how well she is doing. She lived in my home, her mother’s home, Shannon’s home and your classroom. She credits you, Libby, and several others there as her reason for pursuing a degree in education. I am proud of her, and scared FOR her. Her intent is to come home to your district to teach. She considers it her legacy…her responsibility to pay back what was done for her…from Jodie Smith to Brian Jones to Steve Wedel.

    I earned my degree in education in 1987, yet have never been able to afford the opportunity to follow my passion for the classroom. I fear she may end up down the same path I did…not being able to follow her dream and make rent. I will continue to encourage her, as you still do, to follow her dream. It just breaks my heart to know her dream will require the level of personal sacrifice to make her world better, one student at a time.

    I cried as I read your post. I cry now as I respond. If there is ever anything I can do to help our WHHS family, you know how to reach me. Many of us would be happy to push a broom. Much love from a dedicated father and thankful parent.

    1. Thank you, Bill. Amanda will be a fantastic teacher. However, as much as I miss her — and can only imagine how much you do — she would probably be better off staying in Arkansas. We need teachers like she’s going to become, but she’ll be putting herself behind if she returns to teach in Oklahoma unless something drastic happens.

      1. …and that is heart breaking.

    2. Brother,

      This whole thing appears to have been picked up by News Channel 4. If you receive any threatening blow back from administration there, please reach out to a few of us privately. We can open up a whole can of “Crye Media Machine” whoop ass on this and really get the ball rolling. We love you and have your back.


  5. Thank God for teachers like you. I am broken hearted about our education system. I am mad as hell at our state government leaders who have deliberately put our state in this position. And I am mostly worried about our kids, the future of our state and country. It’s time to get off our collective butts and stop this madness. Get out and Vote people into office that want to help our teachers, our state, and most importantly our children! This can’t wait…it has to happen NOW!

    1. Thank you, Brenda, and I absolutely agree with you. People need to be angry when they vote this November. My school is only beginning to find ways to save money. I can’t even imagine what it’ll be like when the new school year starts.

  6. Steven,

    Thank you so much for speaking out; I worked in public education years ago, and my wife works there now.

    I agree with almost everything you said, but I do disagree with one thing; the tone of your post (in my opinion) paints a picture of a state legislature that is ignorant or misguided. Nothing could be further from the truth – they are doing EXACTLY what they mean to do: Destroy public education so that the rich can use the tax dollars of the poor and working classes to educate their own kids for free.

    Every time we as an electorate vote “R”, we are furthering the creation of this plutocracy under the guise of voting for Jesus, or voting against those we hate (not that the “D’s” are much better, BTW – see H. Clinton).

    Our people are bankrupting the future of the children of the poor and middle class by electing the elite under the banner of voting for Jesus and voting against “lazy freeloaders”.

    1. Kelly, I mostly agree with you. Maybe it’s a need to maintain my own sanity that makes me say I have to believe there are good Republicans as well as good Democrats who actually want to do what’s right. This doesn’t extend to Mary Fallin or many of the others. In some cases I have to think it is ignorance, because I was so ignorant about some issues before I saw them in person. Like immigration. I can see and often agree with the idea of closing our southern border. However, as I’ve posted here before, I have had amazing Hispanic students who find the chance to go to community college for free — something all legal citizen graduates at my high school get — denied to them because their parents brought them here, often before they were even school age. In some cases, I think educating our lawmakers would help. Many of them, however, simply do need to be removed before the damage is absolutely irrevocable.

  7. The damage done to public education is a horror. Yet it cannot be forgotten or overlooked that as you martyr yourself here it’s the political party you support – locally and nationally – making strides in one of their key strategies that urges you to write this. You cut your own throat and jeopardized the future of the children you’re responsible for. Remember that.

    1. I’m thankful somebody is keeping tabs on how I mark my ballots. Republicans are supposed to be the party of fiscal responsibility. They have failed miserably. But the answer is not the Democrats’ equality of outcome philosophy, either. The last state governor I actually vocally supported was Brad Henry, a Democrat whose wife was a teacher. I have never been a fan of Mary Fallin, a shrill, uncompromising, selfish woman who is too much like Hilary Clinton in my mind, just on the other side of the issues. Also, my intent was not to martyr myself. I have no intention of dying just yet. I’m not a great teacher. I have the ability to connect with kids on a personal level, but I am, at best, a mediocre teacher. I’ve known great teachers and wish I was one of them, but I’m not. I had no idea whatsoever this post would get the traction it’s gotten. Usually my blog gets as much traffic as a broken fruit stand along a deserted highway. Anyway, I always try to vote based on the issues I support (or don’t), not along party lines, so I do resent your comment that I have “cut [my] own throat and jeopardized the future of the children [I’m] responsible for.”

  8. Hello
    Fantastic blog
    Good luck
    Thank you

  9. Awesome description of what is happening in Oklahoma education. I retired in January from a small country school. I know several of the OKC schools have such an abundance of free-reduced lunches (portions are terrible for those hungry kids). Thanks you for being so wonderful and caring! There isn’t one legislature member who would last a week in a classroom! My prayers for all Oklahoma teachers!!!

  10. You have done a remarkable job of telling how it is, and I thank you for working with our kids. I plan to share this post with my facebook friends. I am a retired teacher, and I feel your pain.

  11. Every word is true, but this letter will fall on very deaf ears. Like always the lawmakers will pass the buck onto someone or something else.. They believe they are god and can cause no harm to the pubic when in fact they are killing the people that don’t fit into there small super rich click..

  12. I feel your pain. I work in child care and I see my tax money wasted on people who try to leave their children in my care for more than 10hrs a day even when they are. It working. These people ha e DHS Assistance help to pay for childcare. I’ve been in child care for 18 years and it gets worse every year. We have to take classes every year and have high standards to go by and we don’t get paid very well. It makes no sense that there is Pre-K at public schools when they can’t afford it. They need to go back to daycare where we teach them. We are on the federal food program that pays very little in return but expect you to buy certain items to feed the children. Most of it the children will not eat so they go hungry. The price of food is outrageous. I make good money yet I live in poverty. I may have to take a second job or other employment. I have to make my own children walk a mile to go to school and back. I can no longer afford child care even with a 75% discount. I love my daycare children and I miss them they are gone or I’m not there. I give them all the love that I ca. Because some don’t get enough at home. J.O.

  13. While I am not a teacher I currently have a senior in high school and a sophomore. My children do not attend an OKC school but a small rural school in a town called Minco. I see teachers loving these children as you described and I see them loving my children. My children are one of the lucky few who have both parents at home and parents who stay involved in their school activities and work. My children are the lucky ones because my husband and I refuse to let them dwindle away to nothing. We encourage sports and/or band. We go to every event they have. We stay in contact with their teachers. We want to be the minority of parents who are involved. I thank you for your open letter and bringing to light what it’s actually like to teach these kids that have a self entitlement attitude. While I see kids (and adults) acting like everything should be handed to them and they shouldn’t have to work for anything, I’m glad my kids attend a school where this attitude is not tolerated. I’m for punishment to kids who misbehave, I’m for swats and punishment. Heck, my kid acts up make him pick up trash. Thank you for opening my eyes to what you go through on a daily basis but please know that there are parents like me who stand behind you and support you in everything you are trying to do for our kids. Thank you for the scarifies you have had to make to teach our children.

  14. I teach in OKC and know exactly how you feel!

  15. Our teachers should not fear losing their health insurance or benefits. Our teachers should be treasured because they hold the our children’s future in their hands. It is a thankless job!

    It is hard to live in a state where our schools are facing such a huge crisis and you hear our governor and other leaders announcing their intentions to reduce income taxes and announcing a $125 million project to renovate the Capitol building. Not to mention listening to the proposed bills coming out of the Senate education committee. It is disheartening to hear the drivel that is coming out of the mouths of those in charge.

    I never thought of myself as a political person, but this is something that cannot be ignored. We must stand up for our teachers and our schools, and we must raise our voices. Apathy is getting us no where.

  16. So sad for our public education system. Well said.

  17. What an eloquent and touching letter that I pray will touch the hearts of those in elected, government chairs who care enough to change the status quo. I substitute taught for a brief period and truly know that unless God has called you to teach these children, you can’t do it effectively. Thank you for your sacrifices and love for the children you touch! May God bless you. It’s unbelievable the financial state that our constituents have placed our schools, teachers, and children in. Be of good courage and press on. I will be praying for you and for an awakening of the good people of our state and county.

  18. Deeply touched by your letter. I was born and raised in OKC. I now live in TN and we face similar issues.

  19. Teachers all over are facing similar situations. Parents don’t respect teachers. Legislators don’t respect teachers. Thanks for putting words to the attitude that has permeated education!
    – HS Science teacher from Illinois

  20. Thank you thank you thank you for speaking up for us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: