Those Who Can, Teach. Those Who Can’t Afford It, Join A Movement

Today in Tr-mp-red Oklahoma, teachers by the tens of thousands are engaging in a rally-walkout. Following the success that Tr-mp-red West Virginia teachers had with their two-week strike, tens of thousands of low-paid Oklahoma educators are getting together in Oklahoma City to demand from right-wing Republicans an increase in education funding even oklahoma public employees association photobeyond what they recently approved— passed in fear of such an uprising. Thousands of teachers in Kentucky are rallying, too. And Arizona teachers are contemplating taking action. Marry these developments with the student-led movement to change our gun laws and we can say that something is happening in America. Something good.

Because Republicans have waged war on collective bargaining, particularly collective bargaining by public employees, in some cases teachers have had to march “ahead of their unions,” as an NPR story put it. One of those teachers getting out ahead of too-timid or too-weak teachers’ unions is a Tulsa English teacher named Larry Cagle. He is a co-founder of Oklahoma Teachers United (OTU), a group that was birthed at a Starbucks last year. The initial plan, according to OTU’s group’s Facebook page, “began with coordinated teacher sickouts” all around “the Tulsa metropolitan area and in some smaller rural schools.” The resulting widespread media coverage gave the group exposure enough to attract others around the state interested in the cause, and the establishment of “secret channels” allowed the group’s leaders “to communicate with active protesters.”

Thus, here we are today watching something many of us didn’t think we’d ever see, a “wildcat walkout” (as OTU calls it) that has helped push not only Oklahoma teachers’ unions into concerted action (the unions are involved and are ultimately crucial to the movement’s success), but in some cases has school management on board. It truly is a remarkable moment.

But there is something a little troubling about a few of the things I have heard teachers in Oklahoma and elsewhere say on television and express on their placards regarding what they are doing. A variation goes something like this: “We aren’t doing this for ourselves, but for our kids, for our students.” Now, no matter how admirable it is that teachers do have such high regard for their students, there is no need for them to apologize for wanting higher wages and better benefits for themselves. There is absolutely no shame in wanting adequate compensation for the arduous work of getting a teaching degree, obtaining certification, running up a large student loan debt, and working long hours at home and weekends grading papers and preparing lesson plans. Oh, and besides all that, teachers are required to pursue “continuing education” in order to keep their certification. And what do they get for their trouble? As Larry Cagle said to NPR,

I’m 54 years old and my paycheck is $1,980 [a month]. I can’t afford fucking health insurance.

The fact that an Oklahoma teacher that age or any age can’t afford health insurance, largely because of tax giveaways to wealthy Oklahomans and oil companies, is a moral outrage. Consider Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Shawn Sheehan. He finally had enough of “Things will get better soon, we promise.” In 2017, the Teacher of the Year moved to Texas for the money. “We are joining many other teachers who have either already left or plan to do so over the next year,” he said without shame. And he wasn’t finished:

I’ve done everything I know how to do to try and make things better. We could stay, but it would cost our family – specifically our sweet baby girl. My wife and I are not willing to do that. We, like you, want what’s best for our children and she deserves to grow up in a state that values education. And so do your children.

Most Americans “value” education by paying lip service to it. They say things like, “Teaching is a very noble profession,” while running to the polls to vote for Republicans who will gut the profession by cutting taxes. But Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year had something to say to people who think he should be content with the “nobility” of his profession:

There are teachers in this state who say things like, “I’m just in this for the students. If you’re not in it for the kids, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” This was oImage result for shawn sheehan familyne response from a teacher who vehemently disagreed with my statements.

Do other teachers out there really think we aren’t in this for the students? Who in their right mind teaches in Oklahoma for the money? Of course I’m here for my students, their families, and this community, but I won’t apologize for demanding a livable wage…

Oftentimes, I find these are the same teachers who vote against legislation and/or legislators who would help our cause. If my reality isn’t yours, is there a need discredit my and OUR colleagues’ stories? How many times will they excuse these budget cuts and “proudly” declare that they’d teach one hundred students in a classroom with no supplies and that they’d do it for free because it’s all about the kids?

You can’t spend nobility at the grocery store. Blue Cross won’t let you purchase health insurance at “noble profession” rates. Teachers shouldn’t have to beg at the statehouse door for food or healthcare or, for God’s sake, for classroom materials. They should, as they are doing today in Oklahoma and Kentucky, demand what they most clearly deserve.

Image result for teachers in oklahoma on strike

[Top photo: @okea; middle photo: @CathyBenge1; Shawn Sheehan photo: Tulsa World]


  1. Here, here.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The plight of teacher pay highlights very well the principal difference between the major political parties. Democrats want to support society’s long-term interests. Republicans seem to believe that individual effort is sufficient for success. That this is hypocritical can be seen in many ways, but perhaps none better than their support for the elimination of the estate tax.

    The quality of public education today is not good, but it won’t improve until the teaching profession can attract better teaching quality.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jim,

      Yes, the Dems do have a gene for long-term investments in society. And Republicans tend to look at those investments as “burdens” on the “producers.” That’s part of the reason why teachers have to rally for the basics and our infrastructure is crumbling all around us. But the biggest reason is that folks, like teachers and construction workers and other direct and indirect beneficiaries of long-term investments, are willing to put short-sighted Republicans in office because of, in many or most cases, religious zealotry over abortion and gay rights. I would guess that at least 50 percent of those Oklahoma teachers voted for Tr-mp, largely because of evangelical-fueled disdain for Democrats.



  3. HI has hard time ridding inefficient teachers cuz their union’s so strong and protective !


  4. Hawaii has a hard time firing inefficient teachers backed by their very strong union !


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