(Photo credit: News on 6)
by Timantha Norman
As a former employee of the district, I’ve been watching the news coverage of the ongoing saga at Edison High School with the exasperated knowledge of a weathered insider. I also began to notice the massive amount of misinformation and misconceptions about what was really taking place there from outsiders and insiders of the city’s education sphere alike.
This dynamic first became apparent to me when the viral video of the teacher at Edison High throwing a desk across the room in a fit of anger was recklessly splashed across all the major local news outlets and across multiple social media platforms without very little context given. As I read through the comments on someone’s Facebook posting of the clip, there were two very distinct sides people tended to take on the issue: complete disgust and shock with the teacher’s actions or complete sympathy and understanding. These lines were normally drawn based on the commenter’s actual first-hand experience in education.
Again, having been a teacher for three years for arguably one of the district’s more challenging high schools, I could definitely understand the sheer amount of stress and turmoil that could drive some teachers to that point, especially if you happen to be unlucky enough to work in a school with a head administrator that is not supportive to their teachers in the slightest. While I do not condone this behavior, as a feeling human being who had dealt with similar circumstances, I could certainly empathize.
I was however somewhat taken aback by how visceral the superintendent’s response was in speaking about this teacher. In a way, I understood why she felt she needed to take such a hard line to appease some key stakeholders. However, to me it just showed the lack of empathy for the day-to-day trauma and stress that teachers in the district’s schools have to deal with. I was also very disappointed with how quickly the higher-ups distance themselves from situations they had a hand in creating.
Several weeks later, I attended my first district board meeting. I was shocked by the large turnout and saw two very distinct faction of folks represented the most in the crowd: people wearing KIPP Tulsa gear in support of the establishment of a high school and people with signs and assorted gear in support of Edison.
The proposal for KIPP Tulsa’s high school seemed to go through without such resistance besides one very passionate North Tulsa community advocate expressing his dissatisfaction with the district basically treating McLain High School for over 30 years as the “unwanted stepchild” of the district. However, this man also seemed to not really have any issues with KIPP Tulsa.
After about 20 minutes of the members of the school board sorting through routine board affairs, they transitioned to the Edison situation. I was shocked by the long list of people from Edison who had signed up to make citizen comments to the board. I was very impressed by the very eloquent but straightforward way that the students, PTSA president, and a parent spoke about the toxic environment that had been going on at Edison, everything from inconsistent discipline for misbehaving students to the head administrator’s constant disrespectful tone to students, teachers, and staff.
Toward the end of these comments, I was simultaneously texting two friends, one a current educator and one a former. After the last Edison supporter that I witnessed before leaving spoke about her dissatisfaction with the state of things at the school and said a line that made the whole room stand in awe (“The midtown money belt is speaking. Are you listening now?”), one of my friends texted me, “This isn’t good for North Tulsa”. For a moment, I was confused but I quickly understood what he meant being a native North Tulsan myself. My other friend also shared a similar sentiment with me.
As the days went on after this volatile board meeting, I kept thinking about how the vast majority of people that were airing their grievances that night on the Edison side were largely white even though Edison has a sizeable population of students of color, which was quite evident during today’s student walkout. I also kept thinking about the woman’s “midtown money belt” comment. I completely understand what she was trying to say but it only made it more painfully clear that if a school with a majority white middle-class/upper-middle-class student body is having this many issues with little help from the district then the already severely underserved schools in North and East Tulsa serving mostly low-income black and brown kids have little to no chance of having any concrete positive changes happen any time soon. That is the reality we as people of color have come to know all too well.
I am not claiming to have all the answers. I feel as though the district’s strategy (purposeful or not) of just blaming all of the district’s problems on low teacher pay is not serving anyone. This is a major issue but not the only issue in the city’s educational sphere. Every public school educator in Oklahoma have already been quite aware of their incredibly low salaries compared to even surrounding states for quite some time and the state legislators definitely need to continue having constituent pressure placed on them to properly remedy this. However, when public school teachers in our city, regardless of their geographical location, have to deal with unsupportive, condescending, disrespectful administration, it is like having salt poured into a wound that has gone unattended for far too long.
Timantha Norman is the Managing Editor of The Black Wall Street Times. She is an educator who fervently believes in the power of culturally responsive, critical thinking-focused pedagogy in transforming the lives and future prospects of children. She also believes in journalism’s power to give agency and power to historically oppressed populations. Through her activism in the community and as a student of public policy, she understands the importance of harnessing collective, political power in the service of promoting truth and eliminating injustice. She looks forward to harnessing her personal and professional skills in the service of her community.