In light of the successful nine-day teacher strike in West Virginia, teachers across the state of Oklahoma are gearing up for their own impending strike April 2.
The last time Oklahoma teachers went on strike was in 1990 when a $230 million education reform and tax package failed. Currently, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), Oklahoma’s largest teachers union, “seeks a $10,000 pay raise for educators and a $5,000 raise for education support professionals.”
According to Kelli Dudley, Oklahoma Christian University education professor, the OEA aims to revise the education system as a whole.
“Right now, the state is not funding education,” Dudley said. “Teachers are having to buy supplies for their classroom. That hurts my heart, because I taught for 25 years and I know how difficult it is to be unappreciated but also unsupported.”
The planned teacher strike intentionally falls before standardized testing, which begins April 3. According to Dudley, the strike may hurt the students more than anyone else.
“Any time students are not in school, they are not learning,” Dudley said. “I’m not a big advocate for the standardized testing, but students have been studying to take these exams, and it’s just hard to say whether it’ll be pushed back or not.”
Oklahoma Christian students studying education typically spend 60 to 130 hours in a classroom throughout their junior year and participate in student teaching during their senior year.
Senior McKensie Theis currently student teaches at West Field Elementary in Edmond, OK and plans to work at César Chávez Elementary after graduation. According to Theis, teachers at her school have thoroughly discussed the possibility of a strike as it could create problems for underprivileged students.
“It’s hard, because the free and reduced lunch kids won’t be able to eat during the strike,” Theis said. “For some kids, school is their safe place, so when the kids that don’t have good home lives find their peace and love at school, it will hurt them when they don’t see their teachers. But, I think in the long run, if this bill does get passed, there will be people in the field of education that benefit.”
There are more than 1,000 emergency certified teachers in Oklahoma. According to Dudley, this issue is just as important as the low teaching salary.
“House bill 1017 that was passed in 1990 said that class sizes, kindergarten through third grade, should not have more than 20 students,” Dudley said. “We are not honoring that bill.”
According to NPR, Oklahoma teachers have not received a pay raise in ten years. Additionally, the Oklahoma education system is one of the five lowest-paying states for high school teachers in America, with an average salary of $45,276.
Although the salary is low, Dudley said the Oklahoma Christian School of Education encourages its students to teach locally.
“When there’s a strike, the students lose,” Dudley said. “Teachers and our education system have been pushed to the limit. As a school of education, we stand behind the teachers and especially our graduates. We support them 100 percent if they strike or if they do not.”
Oklahoma Christian alumna Sarah Jaynes said teaching at Charles Haskell Elementary is a ministry. Although Jaynes was a family studies major at Oklahoma Christian, she said she felt called to aid the Oklahoma education system despite the low salary.
“I think, if the strike is productive, it could enable schools to hire better teachers for the students,” Jaynes said. “I am more of a peacemaker, so it definitely doesn’t make me feel good inside that they have to go to this extreme to find the resources that they need.”
Dudley said she believes Matthew 6:21—“where your treasure is there your heart will also be”— applies to the education system in Oklahoma.
“If we say we value children and we say we value education, then we definitely should put our treasure with our future,” Dudley said. “I’m not passionate about the strike but I am passionate about our education and our teachers and how we need to treasure our future. Children are our future.”