Why is Oklahoma creating a toxic environment for teachers?

Why is Oklahoma creating a toxic environment for teachers?

During Hispanic Heritage Month, my class always reads “Geraldo No Last Name” by Sandra Cisneros. This short story details the life of a young immigrant who came to America to work. One night, after being struck during a hit and run, Geraldo was taken to a hospital, succumbing to his wounds and dying. Geraldo perished due to a lack of concern by the medical staff because the only person working that night was an intern.

At this point, I stop and ask my students, “If you were in an accident and your life was hanging in the balance, would you want an intern operating on you or an experienced doctor?” They all say as I’m sure you would agree, an experienced doctor. The follow-up is always, “Why do you think the hospital didn’t provide an actual doctor?”

Now, replace Geraldo with public education and ask yourself, if your child’s educational future was on the line, would you want them to have an experienced teacher or an intern? The follow-up is, why does our state insist on creating an environment so toxic that many talented teachers are leaving the state or, even worse, the profession entirely? Could it be that our state leaders want our public education to suffer a similar fate as Geraldo?

Many of our elected officials, who have the power and the ability to change the way our public looks at our most valuable resource, choose to divide through the use of fear-laced tales cited without evidence to support their claims. Once this seed is planted, they use the guise of “choice” to divert much-needed funds and communal talent away from their school.

It is so hard for the public to get behind their teachers because they don’t honestly know what we do every day. The truth is that in the same way the medical staff didn’t know about Geraldo and all he did for those back home, our public has no clue what teachers do inside our four walls.

On a good day, a teacher can make your child beam with pride after finally mastering content. On a bad day, a teacher can take a bullet for them. On the days in between, we serve as role models, coaches, sponsors, authors of letters of recommendation and whatever else your child may need on that given day. If you ask any teacher, they will welcome your presence in the classroom to see exactly what the job is.

So I ask you when the last time you were in your child’s school was? When was the last time your business closed its doors and went to volunteer at a school? When was the last time you voted for what was in the best interest of all kids?

Our state Legislature has made a choice, but you have a choice, as well. You may not be able to teach your child, but you are more than able to love them and lead by example. You can choose to come in and support your local school, even if it’s just for one day. You can choose to be mindful about how you talk about those who do a thankless job. You have the power to teach through your positive actions toward educators.

Our choices have consequences. If our general public fails to engage, my greatest fear is that Oklahoma teachers may share a similar fate as Geraldo and “go north. … We never heard from him again.”

Felix Linden is an eighth-grade English Language Arts teacher at FD Moon Middle School in Oklahoma City.

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