Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Shawna Mott-Wright: The precarious finances of an Oklahoma classroom teacher

By:  Shawna Mott-Wright

The holiday season traditionally marks the start of a time to celebrate the family and friends who make our lives so rich. For many, it means it’s time to start hanging holiday decorations, write lists for Christmas shopping, and make plans to visit with loved ones both near and far. For our teachers, it means that their already very limited funds have to stretch even further to make the season bright for their children and families.
Imagine that you are a parent of two and you’ve just received your monthly paycheck. After you pay your bills to keep your family housed and fed, you have $268.78 left, or just under $3 per person per day until your next paycheck. What will you do if you get a flat tire? What if you have to cover the co-pay on an emergency room visit? While you’re figuring that out, do you know which bills you can pay late without interruption of service or penalty fees? How much credit is available on your MasterCard?
Oklahoma teachers navigate difficult questions like these every day. And while they’re worrying about making ends meet, your child’s teachers are also creating lesson plans, grading essays, scoring tests, reviewing performance data, tutoring students after school, and meeting with parents to discuss questions or concerns. They’re spending their own money on classroom supplies to enrich your child’s learning. It’s also likely that they have to get it all done with enough time left to get over to job No. 2 by the start of shift. I know teachers who keep grueling schedules like these — and have done so for years with no end in sight.
Nobody enters the teaching profession because they want to get rich. They do it for love of the work: for that “lightbulb” moment when a child just gets it, for the boundless opportunities they help create for the students in their care. They do it because they know the difference that great teachers can make, and they strive to be a change-maker every day. Isn’t it time that our state does the same for them? Our teachers deserve more than last place on the national educator salary comparisons. Tulsa teachers shouldn’t have to wait 27 years to earn the median household income in Tulsa County.
It’s time for our state leaders to pass a plan to create a permanent, sustainable source of revenue to increase teacher salaries to a level commensurate with the critical service they provide to students and families. We’ve talked about the problem of Oklahoma teacher salaries for far too long, and our teachers — those who remain in the state — have waited long enough for our legislators to fix it.
The Oklahoma Legislature reconvenes on Feb. 6, and that means that education supporters and advocates have more than two months to make their voices heard in Oklahoma City. Let’s ask the men and women who represent us to spend one of those months living on the take-home salary of a first-year teacher with one dependent. After a month living on $4.96 per person per day after housing, utilities, and insurance, maybe they’ll be ready do the right thing and pay our teachers what they deserve.
Shawna Mott-Wright has been a teacher for 12 years and currently serves as vice president of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association. She is a second-generation TPS teacher, TPS student, and proud single mother of two children who attend Tulsa Public Schools.

1 comment:

  1. Amen. I gave up the endless struggle. I couldn't do it anymore. But I still support the fight for teachers, because who else will educate the children? I've been in those trenches, and teachers deserve so much more than they are given. They deserve to not worry about keeping the lights on, a roof overhead, and food on the table. Why do we continue to turn a blind eye to the fact that a teacher's salary is no longer a living wage? How does it show respect for a profession when a teacher's salary is barely above the poverty line? How do we wake up the legislators to the reality they are blind to? The funding must be found, because our current system is not sustainable.