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 thoughts on “Open Letter to Oklahoma Voters and Lawmakers

  1. The Legislators in this state still owe 3.5 Billion Dollars to the school system for which they don’t want or care to pay.
    They even go against the Federal court system which ordered them to pay.
    The question I have is “What did they do with the money”?

  2. Brilliantly written. You make me proud to b a person with children that thank the good Lord are grown and educated and doing very well but that was a different time than now. If it were not for teachers like u think of how many would have already been cast aside. Full agreement with u. For what teacher r expected to accomplish its impossible on their salaries. It does start with the government. There IS money there to help. If each official would take a 10% pay cut for education they would still bathe fat cats on the hill living high on the hog. Parents need ton held more accountable for their actions and responsibility to what SHOULD be there # 0ne priority. To raise a child to love themselves enough to want to get out of this cycle of poverty and help change this downward spiralling of its someone’s else’s responsibility to make my child learn and be something. It starts with the parents first don’t even get me started on that one. Then funding to schools and supplies needed, then the government needs to step in and make sure these thing get done. I applause your determination to make a diffetence for these young people. Please don’t ever stop your conquest to keep these kids on the right track. There will b failures but also many successes You will b the teacher that some kids will one day say, boy if it wasn’t for him I dont know where if ever today or even alive. The movie ( Patch Adams) was very inspirational to me. One person can make a difference. Thank you again for your love , hard work and compassion you have for children. This story needs to go to the wonderful Ellen Degeneres Show. She can sure bring so much help and attention to good teachers like you. God bless you in all your endeavors. A friend and not a teacher. 😢

  3. Why not start another school. In England we can do this. I home educate and would never consider going in a school now. I really pity you.

  4. Pingback: GREG: Something To Think About As You Send Your Kids Back To School « 102.5 KEZK
  5. Beautiful and sad letter. I’m a retired teacher and I feel for you. Don’t give up. We teachers are the salvation of this country.

  6. Are the parts about the Michelle Obama school lunch upgrades really what he believes ?
    Or just an early hook to keep conservatives reading ??
    The school lunch changes were to get recognizable food on the plate instead of piles of factory-phood + corn syrup.
    So maybe his students are throwing away parts of the lunch since they know they can get junk to eat in the classroom.
    Or maybe the same chintzy funding he complains of through the rest of the piece is shrinking the amount of food, in his particular District, while quality rises.
    Thus Michelle Obama appears a wrong target.

    • I appreciate this comment when I shared this article later with some of my friends they assumed he was criticizing Michelle Obama for not giving more food I think that is a big misrepresentation so I’m wondering how to clear that up to them I appreciate your comment on it and it makes sense thank you very much

      • More food IS being thrown away every day in school cafeterias now. Regs say kids MUST TAKE 3 or 4 different food group items, even if they only want and will eat 1 or 2. Apples become a toy to cut up and stab with knives and forks before more than half wind up in the composting bin. Menu choices have been scaled back to fewer (elementary school). Healthier food choices, but far more in the compost. Learning tool about better food choices, yes, in the long run. Longterm cafeteria monitor.

  7. Thank you for writing. Brings tears to my eyes. I know these kids too. Please don’t blame Michelle Obama for your school’s inability to implement a lunch program with standards. Serving healthy food is absolutely foreign to most public schools, therefore they could not implement the program correctly.
    It seems that your school district has massive misappropriation of funds issues. This misappropriation is a common issue among many school districts in California as well. We are meant to be one of the wealthiest states in the nation with many of the country’s billionaires and yet, we can’t put food on the table, a bus system is completely absent in many districts, we have an alarming drop-out rate, and seriously worrisome teacher proficiency issue. Basically, our teachers can’t be effective due to the overcrowding of our classrooms.

  8. My Anti-Thesis: Why I Never Completed my Educational Doctorate.

    Let me begin by saying I truly love education. I did not have the greatest experience in education. Upon graduation, I had attended schools in numerous states to include Alaska, Maryland, and Arizona. There is a significant change in my progress through schools directly related to loss of credits from state standardized testing. I left our educational system disenfranchised and upset at the world. My choice fortunately was military service in the Marines. They taught me that success is only hindered by my perceptions of my own ability. In short I was as capable to accomplish what I wanted and was hindered only by my own belief that I would fail.
    This year marks my tenth year in education. I have been in numerous schools and have various teacher certificates in the state of Texas. I have a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction as well as Educational Administration. I additionally have my Bachelors in History. I have taught fourth grade, seventh grade, eight grade, and high school. I have completed my hours for my educational doctorate but stopped on my thesis. I was writing a thesis on teacher self-efficacy and was stumped on one question, “Are teachers able to teach?” I was genuinely saddened by the answer I foresaw.
    The sad truth of education is that teachers have no level of trust. My administration that evaluated me was not in the class. Imagine you are getting a medical procedure in a hospital or even your vehicle repaired. Should your mechanic or doctor be evaluated by someone that is no longer practicing? At what point has education left the field of science that we are not taking a scientific approach? My most frustrating thought was why am I being taught psychological interventions and never had been asked to take psychological courses in obtaining my teacher certification?
    We spend so much money and time to get trained in education but can you believe the psychology of learning is only one course required? I am being supervised by a superintended that manages a great deal of money but in my administration certificate take one to two courses in school finance? I think we need to take a real look at how we educate our children. I have made it my goal to become diversified in education. I have teacher certificates in English as a Second Language, Social Studies, Technology Applications, Elementary Education, and Educational Administration. Some think I am out of my mind when they see my certifications but I wonder if you are not experts in all these fields how can you educate our students?
    I never completed my doctorate in education because I wonder with all these fails what good would I be able to achieve. I love education and that is clear by my success in education but must ask, “Why get my doctorate when no one is going to listen?” I pose this question to all for some answer. I joined the educational field because schools failed me and I wish to change that but how can schools be successful if we are not willing to address the issues. I believe the only way a student fails are if a teacher fails to educate them but how can they with hand tied? Should we not simply untie the hands of educators and let them teach? I have been accepted to law school even though I graduated highs school with a 1.8 GPA and someone should ask how is that even possible?

  9. You had me enthralled until you took that unnecessary stab at Michelle Obama and her healthy food initiatives.

    I guess I fall resoundingly into the category of piss poor parents you so eloquently described. I absolutely feed my children healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner. My childrens typical breakfast consist of a piece of fruit, a healthy juice and a whole grain waffle or natural peanut butter of wheat bread. I am such a horrible inner city mother.

    I would never have considered a better choice for breakfast being a sodium filled fat laced jerky stick or a sugar and fat filled pop tart. Maybe we should include Ramem as a healthy lunch alternative instead of Salads, healthy soups or lean chicken or beef. I dont know you tell me.

    Also I have one of those mean dogs you spoke of that kids fear dreadfully. That 26 pound Beagle is a horror and a menace.

    Oh yeah my HUSBAND and I both work, so on those rare occasions when the school has to call one of us, if one of the children is sick, it does take us a bit to respond back and get to the school because, well, we kind of have to clear the leave time with our supervisors.

    And as for the fact that we are un-loving and dont care about our children or their education, our daughter has applied to 12 Universities, she has been accepted to 8 and we have not yet heard back from 4. She is ranked #6 in her graduating class, she is an honor student with a 3.76 GPA and this gpa does not yet reflect her AP classes, which she is acing.

    Our middle school age son is bringing home A’s and B’s and our oldest son is a Geo Spatial Engineer living on the West Coast. Sooooo yes we,My Husband and I, no boyfriend, no shacking up, are those “Inner City” parents who appreciate very much Michelle Obama’s healthy food initiative.

    And I don’t see any correlation between eating healthy and a failing school system.

    Oh yes, just for shits and giggles, we also live in a Red State.

    • Hi Angela,
      I really don’t think the author of this open letter was aiming at you in any way. On the contrary, you are exactly the sort of parents that he was begging others to become. You shouldn’t take offense but be proud of what you have achieved under difficult circumstances and you have ensured that your children have been able to move out of the poverty trap. Maybe you can pass on your methods to other parents, like those spoken about in this letter, who are quite obviously failing their children. I agree the reference to Michelle Obama’s school meal programme was strange and I think just poorly worded. I assume he is for the programme and against the budget cuts that have caused such a reduction in its scope.

      • it wasn’t poorly worded, it is indicative of a republican not wanting to blame the people who fund the schools so poorly, the republican leadership in his state. republican states are worse in ever aspect he complains about. Oklahoma is one of the worst funded school systems in the country and it is getting worse with the state BOE cutting it even more this year. the school lunch program got cut 30%! not by Obama, by the state BOE.

  10. why do people in conservative states refuse to have conservatives take responsibility for the problems there ? why is it Obama’s fault about school lunches when in 5 seconds on Google I can find out is is the state BOE that has cut funding to the schools. you are a teacher, you don’t know that even this year the school lunch program has been but 30% by your state BOE ? everything you complain about, teen pregnancy, poor graduation rates, over all poverty spending per student Oklahoma and other republican led states are all in the bottom 10. put the blame where it should be put, republican leadership.

  11. Hi Chris,
    It honestly never occurred to me that Steven Wedel would be a republican party supporter or could have voted for them at the last election. You explain why this couldn’t/shouldn’t be the case very clearly in your two responses here. Will have to reappraise his whole message if that is the case!

  12. US schools are not underfunded because the government is ineffective, but by choice. The country spends way too little tax money on public education. Yes, I am willing to pay more taxes if that goes to education.
    However I’m not willing to pay a cent for building one more aircraft carrier to the military; something no one, but military contractors are asking for. If we reduced our military spending by just 5%, we would still spend more than the 10 next countries combined, but we would suddenly have tens of billions to spend on education, the elderly, the sick, and veterans.

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