(UPDATE: The date of the proposed walkout was changed after this story originally posted. The new date is reflected below.)
A teacher’s job is doing whatever it takes to help students succeed in the classroom. Almost overnight, teachers are rising up and making plans on social media for what it would really take to improve our students’ lives.
Oklahoma’s educators are building the capacity for a walkout, and the state’s largest education union has set April 23 as a date for school to shutdown if a teacher pay raise is not approved by the Legislature.
It’s our #OklaEd Spring!
The basis for action
Ordinarily, teachers keep their heads down, focus on their jobs and try to ignore the ways we are treated, but Tulsa has lost 35 percent of its certified staff in the past two years. Staff are exiting at this unprecedented rate because of corporate-reform micromanaging in addition to low pay. They are demoralized by the loss of their professional autonomy to the point where “… we’re all on the low rung of the totem pole,” as attributed to Robert Dumas, a former Broken Arrow teacher who quit after two years. So, this grassroots movement burst out of the Tulsa metro and Green Country.
On Friday, OKC- and Tulsa-area educators convened in Moore “… to weigh their participation and the timing of any such organized effort,” according to the Tulsa World. A Tulsa teacher, Larry Cagle, added, “We are at a crossroads where either something positive happens … or we find ourselves coming back in August with a severely demoralized and depleted teaching corps.” By the following Monday, the Tulsa school board had provided support for a “measured approach” (at least) for the work actions.
Also Monday, during a follow-up meeting at OKC’s Southern Oaks Library, 30-year veteran teacher Bonnie Green explained why teachers are stepping up: “We are now at the point that we’re ready to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough’,” as NewsOK reported. Last, the OKCPS board passed a resolution Monday supporting a possible walkout:
Be it resolved that the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education is in full support of our teachers and stands ready to take any steps necessary to improve conditions for our teachers – including a districtwide suspension of classes.
After some confusion, April 2 set as day for action
Heather Reed, a teacher at OKC’s Lee Elementary School, organized the Moore meeting of three-dozen teachers. She said April 2 would be a good strike date because such timing “might hurt the most.”
But Tuesday, the Oklahoma Education Association announced an April 23 deadline with other details of their plan, as reported by Felder of The Oklahoman:
(Executive director David) DuVall said the OEA is going to ask the Legislature to approve at least a $10,000 pay raise that could be funded over three years. The OEA also plans to ask for increased funding for school operations.
“We plan to present a revenue plan (on Thursday) to fund it,” DuVall said.
Then, on Wednesday afternoon, OEA president Alicia Priest told the Tulsa World that internal and external pressure on the organization convinced them to set April 2 as the date for a statewide walkout.
I agree with an April deadline. The suspension of school as the bubble-in testing season begins would be win-win. If we’re going to improve our schools, sooner or later teachers will have to shut them down. The best time is when most students would not be learning anything worthwhile.
Follow the action on Facebook
Educators and #OklaEd supporters should sign up for the closed Facebook group Oklahoma Teacher Walkout — The Time Is Now! It’s great that the process is unfolding on social media, so all stakeholders can read about what is happening in our classrooms. Further, because it is a bottom-up effort organized on social media, educators are creating a classic “teachable moment,” explaining the interconnected threats to our kids’ educations.
I hope non-teachers join the group and learn valuable lessons about the disrespect educators often endure. Education outsiders will also see that this movement may have been accelerated due to a spontaneous wave of shared frustration, but it’s not just about teachers. Classroom educators are communicating with district leaders. They are making plans to protect students. For instance, plans are being made to assure access to meals for students who receive free and reduced lunches during the stoppage.
Finally, one of the best lessons is that a strike would demonstrate democracy at its best to students as well as government officials. Teachers would demonstrate what it takes to be a citizen as well as their love for our kids.
Far from over
Teachers inside and out of the Facebook group are organizing the possible work stoppages like they would their unit and lesson plans: The first-unit objectives work toward the November elections and beyond. They are laying the foundation for the next unit on what it takes in the long run to build the education system that our kids deserve.