While Oklahoma schools struggle to stay open during the recent Covid19 surge, many educators are worried about a more long-term problem: finding qualified teachers. In fact, some Oklahoma colleges are shuttering their teaching programs due to lack of interest.
Oklahoma City University is no longer providing an elementary education option for future-teachers in their program. “We’re used to class sizes of 12 students, but we’re reaching the point where we had 2-3 students in a class and that just wasn’t sustainable,” said Dr. Heather Sparks, the director of teacher education at OCU.
There are many reasons behind the changes in the population of college students who are driven to become educators. One major reason is finances.
Covid hitting Oklahoma schools hard
Oklahoma’s average teacher pay starts at just over $30,000 per year — barely above the federal poverty level for a family of four. Several years ago, Oklahoma teachers staged a mass walkout, demanding such changes as updated textbooks, more money spent per student, and a raise for teachers. Meanwhile, such upgrades to Oklahoma education have been slow to be implemented.
The Covid pandemic has also hit Oklahoma’s education system hard. As Oklahoma ranks #1 in the nation in Covid deaths per capita, many teachers are saying no to a profession which has become a Petrie dish for infections.
And risking Covid is not the only concern Oklahoma teachers face. “Going back to school this year has been harder than I imagined,” said one public school teacher. “Kids’ mental health has been gravely affected by this pandemic, in ways most people don’t see unless they’re up close.”
Lack of support for teachers leads to lack of interest in teaching degrees
Additionally , teachers’ resources are being squeezed beyond the limit of what educators can do to provide quality learning opportunities for their students. “Teachers in Oklahoma are making magic out of very few resources when they are not being paid a wage reflective of the impact they’re making,” said former educator and educational leader Katie Hoole.
And the problem isn’t just in Oklahoma, but across the nation, where nearly every state is feeling the pinch of teacher shortages. “We’re all trying to serve our students as best we can,” said Missouri school district Human Resources Coordinator Mark Catalane.
Ultimately, some educators are facing the reality that they may not see the type of changes that will entice students to go into education as a career path. “Our teachers, our leaders, our professors are incredibly burned out,” said one anonymous Oklahoma educator. “Yet there doesn’t seem to be much, if any, solution on the horizon.”