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Published 07/22/19 | Reading Time 3 min 4 sec

By Cormell Padillow

Engage OK On The Road is an annual, free teacher training event. The event is hosted at different high schools across Oklahoma from July 15th to July 23rd. They offer professional development and provide updates on federal & state education laws.

Joy Hofmeister, the state superintendent, rides along and holds many different panels.

As an Oklahoma high schooler, I sat on a panel hosted at Bixby Highschool. The panel I sat on had seven students. Superintendent Hofmeister asked us questions. Out of student panelist, I was the only representative of color on the panel.

There was an audience that included 35 teachers representing every grade level.

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The dialogue was 50 minutes long and focused on what did students want their teachers to know. At the end of the panel, the teachers in the audience got to ask questions to the students. We ran out of time before any teachers could ask more than two questions.

The questions were mostly light-hearted and not policy-focused. They were along the lines of, “What makes a good teacher?” and “How can you tell if a teacher loves their students?”

During the panel, there was a question over what do students wish teachers did to prepare them for college?

Most students on the panel stated they wished they got better direction on how to get into college and more classes that prepped students for college-level work.

I took the discussion into another direction, saying, “I’m a normal black kid, my people usually aren’t on these types of panels. I cannot speak for the students going to Owasso or Jinx’s public schools. Although, I can represent minority students at McLain and Central high schools.” I ended my speech stating, “Poor, black and brown students in my community don’t see the same stuff upper-class students do. When we get out of high school, we go straight into the workforce. The idea of college is a distant one. Teachers cannot solve this issue by themselves.”

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Many teachers in the audience started to nod and clap their hands. It seemed I found a common issue with them.

Later on in the panel, the question of mental health arose. Most of my peers agreed teachers should learn about mental health and should help students as best as possible.

I took a slightly different stance on this issue. When I got the chance to hold the mic again, I addressed the audience, stating: “I don’t believe it is fair to try to turn teachers into mental health professionals. We cannot, in good faith, tell teachers they must become a therapist when they teach a classroom of 25 students.” I continued my thought, declaring, “Mental health issues cannot be solved by teachers only. At the end of the day, all they can do is give understanding and empathy.”

Teachers should be aware of mental illness and how to handle students with them.

Although most teachers have too many students in their classrooms to do this effectively, by lowering class sizes, they have fewer students to spread their attention towards — this creates a classroom where student-teacher relationships can grow.

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We should instead be encouraging easy access to mental health professionals because they are the only ones who can help these children.

Teachers are a fundamental piece of society. They educate the generation of the future, and their work impacts all of our futures. I do not believe it is fair they are blamed for a failing educational system.

Teachers can only do so much without outside help. They work within the system, not outside. That means they can only do as much as the school systems allow them. They must operate within budget cuts and class size increases.

The amount of power they have compared to our representatives and the education board is tiny.

The amount of power they do and don’t have is easily seen by the Teacher Walk that happened last year. Despite their loud public protest, they had to compromise.

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So the pressure should be placed on people like governor Kevin Stitt, our state legislators, and Joy Hofmeister.

Even though last time teachers made their voices heard, they did not get what they wanted, that doesn’t mean they walked out with nothing because public pressure got some results.

Joy Hofmeister has a direct line to Oklahoma’s teachers and students. If she wanted to, she could put public pressure on our state legislators in a heartbeat. I’ll give her credit for organizing and going to these events.

Although, what’s the point of being up close and personal with the people, if you aren’t going to do anything for them.

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Cormell J. Padillow is a contributing writer/intern for the Black Wall Street Times and is a Wichita, Kansas transplant. He is The Black Wall Street Times’ first intern and is currently a high schooler at Langston Hughes Academy for Art and Technology, a free public charter school. Padillow has been a high school policy debater for 3-years and has competed at the National, State, and local levels. His words and pen have become the tool he uses to change the mind of the many.

The Black Wall Street Times is a news publication located in Tulsa, Okla. and Atlanta, Ga. At The BWSTimes, we focus on elevating the stories of our beloved Greenwood community, elevating the stories of...