Tulsa’s Teacher of the Year: We cannot continue at this rate (Tulsa World)

By Elizabeth Steinocher

Every single day, I get to wake up and work with the most incredible minds. Every day, I get to see these young minds tackle problems and learn to work through something with a friend. Every day, I get to facilitate discussions that will ripple far beyond the walls where we work. Every day, I get to teach in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

This privilege is my passion. Like countless other teachers, I chose to invest in second-grade students instead of a more lucrative career. Every day, I have the honor of opening my door to 48 little lives. Forty-eight little people come through my room throughout the day knowing they are changing the world for good. I can vouch for each of them.

They each work hard to grow their brains through learning and applying new reading strategies or new ways to do mental math. They each observe insects and write incredible stories. They ask questions and research answers. They are learning the basics of coding and engineering. I glean great joy from being a part of their education each day.

But what keeps me coming back year after year and early morning after early morning, is getting to see who they are as people, as citizens of our city, our state. In the current state of education, it is easy to reduce a student to a test score or a statistic, but they are real people who are affected by the economic and societal changes our state and country are experiencing. Little people who will grow up and make decisions about the future of Tulsa and beyond. And I get to see first-hand what is coming down the pipeline.

These young people work hard. They show up filled with joy. They strive to be the best version of themselves. They are kind. They have so much empathy for one another. They think outside the box to solve problems. They laugh. They are leaders for positive change. Every single student possesses the ability to perform academically at a high level. And yet, we are failing them. Failing them by not providing them the resources, materials and supports to reach their full potential.

I have taught in Tulsa Public Schools for nine years. This year, I have the honor to serve as Tulsa Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year, a task I did not expect but willingly and humbly step up to do. Not for me, but for my students, their families and the greater good of our community and state.

Teachers all around Oklahoma do amazing things each day. Amanda Raupe, a fellow Oklahoma State University graduate, works with her team each day in Putnam City Public Schools to dramatically cut the achievement gap for her students to succeed at a national level. A former colleague, Brooke Rowland, works in Bixby Public Schools to ensure each of her students reaches their full potential. Katie Salyers teaches her first-graders at Celia Clinton Elementary School in Tulsa to not only read, but to love to read.

Have you thought about the gravity of those tasks?

Each and every teacher goes above and beyond what is asked of them. In spite of the drastic budget cuts, these teachers continue to raise the bar for the invaluable futures sitting in their classrooms. We see the future of Oklahoma every single day. We see what Oklahoma can become over time. But we cannot continue at this rate.

The Oklahoma budget for education has been and continues to be slashed at the highest rate in the United States. Since 2008, the state of Oklahoma gashed the budget by 23.6 percent, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute. The cuts are causing districts across our state to make gut-wrenching decisions that affect the lives we see in our hallways, on our playgrounds and in our classrooms every day. We see the faces of the students. We know their stories. I implore you, not only for teachers to begin to feel valued monetarily for what we do, but more importantly for the future of Oklahoma, properly and sustainably find a way to fund education.

Legislators, this is your job. If you say you value Oklahoma, if you say you want to develop this grand land, if you say you want to retain an educated workforce, then I implore you, fund education for the long term. Stop putting bandages on a problem you have created. Fix this for all Oklahoma students. That is the only way to begin to earn back my trust.

If you do not see the value or importance in funding public education, come to my classroom. Sit with my students. See what Oklahoma truly has to offer to others. Put a face with the dire cut you decide to make. Then go back to the Capitol and see if you can still continue to defund education.


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