We Can't Afford to Ignore a Generation

January 30, 2017

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Teachers work hard. There is broad agreement with that statement and there finally seems to be a consensus of the Legislature to address a teacher pay raise. That is welcome and long overdue news. We must keep the best and brightest teachers in our schools. But, as 49 elected officials, business and community leaders learned firsthand recently, raises for teachers do not fill all OKCPS's needs.

Budget cuts have increased class sizes and slashed supply budgets. Support staffs in cafeterias have been cut, causing huge lines and the need to begin lunch as early as 10 a.m. in some schools. Textbook orders have been delayed and students are sharing books that are tattered and torn. These are just a few of the comments made by individuals who participated in the Teacher for a Day event, hosted by Oklahoma City Public Schools and The Foundation for OKCPS.

Despite the challenges, everyone who participated was amazed by the resourcefulness of the OKCPS faculty and staff. There were many positive stories shared by the group, but I'd like to share my personal story. Ms. G teaches kindergarten at Kaiser Elementary. She is a second year Teach for America teacher from Missouri, with endless energy and love for her students. She also finds time to coach 5th and 6th grade basketball and talks to them as we walk through the hallways, asking how their days are going and telling them she loves them. She also mentioned that when she started the basketball club, there weren't even any balls, so she had them funded through a Foundation matched DonorsChoose.org project.

In a class with 23 six year olds, high energy is required. Ms. G moved the class through structured chaos throughout the morning. Each student had their own place to sit crisscross applesauce on the colorful carpet as we read books, talked about the days of the week and dispersed to work at a variety of learning-based centers. The children clearly knew the structure and were always excited to have a few minutes for Up Noodle, which consisted of some free-form wiggling and dancing the Whip/Nae Nae. (I was pretty terrible at that, though they tried to help me.)

My favorite part of the morning was Mystery Picture. Ms. G. put up a picture of a woman in business dress working on an early day computer. The class discussed who she was and what she was doing. The students were each given a chance to give their thoughts and their classmates would agree or disagree, adding their own views. Ms. G told me she works with the children on conversation skills and being able to disagree politely. Most all agreed that she was working on a computer and solving a problem. (One boy even suggested she worked with me. He is the child who read my name tag that said President/CEO and asked if I worked with Michelle Obama. Rather impressive for a kindergartner.)

The mystery woman in the photo was Katherine Johnson, the NASA engineer who played such a pivotal role in the space race. Ms. G described how Johnson loved math and how she followed her dream and never gave up. She reminded the students that they could be anything they wanted to be if they work hard and put their minds to it. They all cheered when she asked them, “Can you be anything you want to be if you work hard?” They believe her that anything is possible. We can't let them down. So many are suffering in our state because of budget issues. We can't afford to ignore a generation.

Read Mary Mélon's original NewsOK editorial