Public School Teachers

in Oklahoma, USA



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There no denying that summer is over. And that means back to school, a time when many of Cara Stoltanberg’s High School’s English students in Norman Oklahoma have put their summer jobs behind them to focus on school.

Here, not so much.

Journalist: “You have a whole day of school, and then you come here?”
English Teacher: “Yes, I do. I get to school typically around eight. Technically off the clock at around 4:20 pm, finish things up at school and then head over here.”

The twenty-nine year old had a retail job back in college. But after getting a master’s degree, she thought those days were behind her.

Cara Stoltanberg, English Teacher: “People kept telling me the same thing, ‘The pay’s not great. The pay’s not great.’ And I heard that, and I understood that. I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for how close I would be cutting it.”

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Nationwide, about one in five teachers has a second job during the school year, which is not so surprising when you consider that since 1996, the inflation adjusted pay for a public school teacher has actually fallen.

The average annual teacher’s salary today: just over sixty thousand dollars ($60,477), with nearly a third making less than forty-five thousand dollars ($45,000) a year, including Cara Soltenberg.

Fury over those flat and falling wages helped spark a movement, one that in the last eighteen months, has swept through conservative red states and liberal blue cities, as tens of thousands of teachers walked off the job.

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Dana Goldstein, Education Reporter, New York Times: “They feel that expectations for the have risen.”

Dana Goldstein is an education reporter for the New York Times, and author of a 2014 book about the history of teaching.

She says low pay has been a problem since the early 1800s, a time when most teachers in America were men.

Dana Goldstein, Education Reporter, New York Times: “When it came time for universal public education for all American kids, Horace Mann, the father of our public education system, said, ‘I have an idea: let’s bring women in as teachers. Then we can expand public education and it will not cost quite as much.”

Journalist: “Because we don’t have to pay women as much?”

Dana Goldstein, Education Reporter, New York Times: “Exactly. At that time it was legal: you could pay women half as much.”

But Goldstein says the recent strikes are about more than just pay. She says many teachers simply don’t feel respected.”

TV News Report (1983): “Education in the nation’s schools came in today for blistering criticism.”

And it’s a feeling she says is traced back to a 1983 report from the Reagan Administration: A Nation at Risk.

Ronald Reagan, 40th US President: “If a foreign nation had done to our schools what we ourselves had done to them, we would be justified in calling it an act of war.”

Dana Goldstein, Education Reporter, New York Times: “One of the arguments it made was teachers was the low intellectual capacity of some teachers was to blame for kids having low test scores and not being able to compete internationally”
Journalist: “So it wasn’t only that schools were failing; it was teachers were failing.”
Dana Goldstein, Education Reporter, New York Times: “Yes.”
Journalist: “That’s a big change?”
Dana Goldstein, Education Reporter, New York Times: “Yeah, it was a big change, and for many teachers, that was the beginning of a feeling that they were being unfairly portrayed and unfairly treated by policy-makers and politicians.”

As new mandates to improve test scores, track student progress, and justify every lesson were piling up, everyone else, it seemed, piled on.

Barack Obama, 44th US President: “We want to reward good teachers, and stop making excuses for bad ones.”

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Eric Gardner, Teacher: “When I was in that classroom, I was the best teacher they could ever have.”

Inside his fourth-grade classroom near Tulsa, Eric Gardner felt like he was making a difference. But increasing demands outside the classroom got in the way.

Eric Gardner, Teacher: “When I first started teaching, you might have one meeting a month. And when I left, you would have two meetings a week. You would also have two meetings during the school day. You might have one before.

And the amount of paperwork is insane!

Journalist: “How were the hours?”
Eric Gardner, Teacher: “Well, that’s where they kind of trick you: ‘You get summers off. You get every vacation off. And you’re only there for seven hours a day.

But that is not true at all. What you don’t see behind the scenes is all the things that are required of you, that take up your time. So yes, students might have left the classroom, but you will be there before they get there, and you will be there long after.”

And it was challenging to do it all on a teacher’s salary. In Oklahoma.

Eric Gardner, Teacher: “When we bought our first house, the only way we could afford it was we had to take on multiple jobs. I worked a Sears. I also worked as a janitor at the school district too. So I would get out of school. I would change my clothes, and go right to janitorial work — and I’d do that from nine to nine-thirty.

When Oklahoma’s teachers walked out last year, they hadn’t had a raise in a decade. After ten days when they returned, the raise they had got fell thousands of dollars short of what they had asked for.

Eric Gardner, Teacher: “I’m not waiting another ten years for another six thousand dollars. No way.”

And so after fifteen years as a teacher, the forty year old left the profession. He now works in a factory, making twelve-thousand dollars ($12,000) more a year.

Thirty thousand (30,000) teachers like him have left Oklahoma classrooms in the last six years alone, part of a nationwide trend contributing to teacher shortages all over the country.

Cara Stoltenberg says the exodus is hard to watch.

Cara Stoltenberg, English Teacher: “In the English department, we’ve lost twenty-six (26) teachers in five-and-a-half years. And they’re teachers who love this career . . . I’m sorry.

And the most painful part is that students are the ones who feel it. They get attached to those teachers. They look forward to having them. And I have students telling me I should leave.”

Journalist: “Where does that come from?”

Eric Gardner, Teacher: “I think it’s because they care and see how hard we work.”

Former Oklahoma teacher, Carry Hicks also decided to give up on teaching; but she didn’t give up on education.

Carry Hicks, Former Teacher: “I was meeting with senators on the education committee. I said, ‘Hi. I’m Carry Hicks. I’m a fourth grade math and science teacher at Deerkirk Elementary. This year I have twenty eight students.’

And he put his hand up and told me I was lying. And he said, ‘We know that the average class size in Oklahoma is sixteen (16).

And I said, ‘I don’t know where you’re getting your numbers, but I’ve been in education in Oklahoma for seven years and I’ve never had a class size less than twenty-three’.”

Journalist: “So what did he decide at that moment?”

Carry Hicks, Former Teacher: “That if they were unwilling to do the job — then I can do it better.”

Hicks decided to run for the state senate in Oklahoma, one of dozens of teachers who ran for political office throughout the country last year.

The results were mixed. Hicks won her race decisively, and vows to keep fighting for higher pay for Oklahoma’s teachers.

Carry Hicks, Oklahoma State Senator: “If we’re not willing to put more dollars into the classroom, if we’re not willing to invest in the people who are going to be in the front of the classrooms either, then what is left for public education?”

Polls show that when teachers strike for higher pay, their communities overwhelmingly support them. But consider this: when actually given the chance to pay teachers more by tax increases, very often those very same voters say “NO”.

Until that changes, Cara Stoltenberg says many teachers will continue to struggle . . so their students won’t have to.

Cara Stoltenberg, English Teacher: “Every time I think about my job, I picture my students. I don’t want them to suffer at all because of constraints I have. And maybe that’s why we’re not getting the funding, we’re getting the raise that is necessary for our needs because we make it work. And we do what we need to.”

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1. All teachers in the United States work one, full-time job as school teacher. Is this correct or incorrect? Does Cara Stoltenberg only teach at a school?

2. Do all teachers in the US earn the same amount or does it vary? Do they get raises? Is it enough for a “middle-class” family?

3. Public school teachers have remained passive and compliant. Is this right or wrong?

4. Has the teaching situation or system always been like this?

5. What have public officials (US Presidents) said about education in America? Did they blame the students or said the students were responsible?

6. Aside from pay, teachers are completely satisfied with their work. True or false? Do teachers come to school, begin teachings in classes, and then go straight home?

7. Once they start their teaching careers, do all teachers remain until they retire?

8. State and local politicians care about education as much as presidents do. Yes or no? What have been some consequences?

9. Will the problem with public schools be resolved anytime soon (in the near future)? Is there a dilemma or hypocrisy regarding citizens?
A. Everyone (students, teachers, parents, politicians, businesses) complains about the school system. True or false? What have been some complains?

B. Do teachers in your country earn an upper-middle class salary, a “middle-class” salary, an adequate amount, not enough or a paltry amount?

C. Have teachers have gone on strike for better pay and support?

D. What might happen in the future? Will things remain the same or will there be changes?

E. What are some solutions of present-day challenges?

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