Open Letter to Oklahoma Voters and Lawmakers

I am a teacher. I teach English at the high school of an independent district within Oklahoma City. I love my job. I love your kids. I call them my kids. I keep blankets in my room for when they’re cold. I feed them peanut butter crackers, beef jerky, or Pop Tarts when Michelle Obama’s school breakfast or lunch isn’t enough to fill their bellies. I comfort them when they cry and I praise them when they do well and always I try to make them believe that they are somebody with unlimited potential no matter what they go home to when they leave me.

What do they go home to? Sometimes when they get sick at school they can’t go home because you and the person you’re currently shacking up with are too stoned to figure out it’s your phone ringing. Sometimes they go home to parents who don’t notice them, and those are often the lucky kids. Sometimes they go home to sleep on the neighbor’s back porch because your boyfriend kicked them out of the house and his dog is too mean to let them sleep on their own back porch. They go home to physical and verbal abuse. They go home looking for love and acceptance from the people who created them … and too often they don’t find it.

Many days your children bring the resentment they feel toward you to school with them and they act out against peers, property, or their teachers. When I call you I’m told, “When he’s at school he’s your problem.” Or you beat them, not for what they did, but because it embarrassed or inconvenienced you when I called.

Often, they stay at school with me for an hour and a half after the bell rings because they don’t want to go home to you. Reluctantly, they get on the two buses meant to take home students who stay for athletic practice, and they go away for a dark night in places I can’t imagine.

Over 90 percent of the kids in my high school are on the free or reduced lunch programs. The walk hand-in-hand with Poverty and its brother Violence. They find comfort in the arms of your lover, Addiction. They make babies before they are old enough to vote. Or drive. And they continue the cycle you put them in.

Sometimes I get through to a student and convince her that education is the way out of this spiral of poverty and despair. Then you slap them down for wanting to be better than you.

And you, the lawmakers of this state, you encourage it. I hold two college degrees and have been on my job for 10 years. I was our school’s Teacher of the Year in 2014. I teach kids to read the ballots that keep you in your elite position. I teach them to look behind your lies and rhetoric. I teach them to think for  themselves. The compensation of me and my colleagues ranks 49th in the nation, and is the lowest in our region. I currently earn about $18,000 per year less than I did in 2002, my last year as an office worker for an energy company that merged with another and eliminated my job. I feel like my life has purpose now, but, as I turn 50 this year and wonder how I’ll put my own high school-age kids through college, I have to consider giving up helping scores of kids per year so I can afford to give my own children what they need to find satisfaction in their lives.

And what do you do? You whittle away at education funding. You waste the taxpayers’ money so that our great state faces unbelievable shortfalls and massive budget cuts. You take home a salary that ranks 10th highest in the nation among state legislators and you are inept, uncaring, and an abomination to our democratic form of government.

Those kids who stay after school with me? After Spring Break 2016 they can’t do that. You see, our district can no longer afford to pay to run those late buses. Your kids wade through garbage in the halls because we had to release the custodial crew that cleaned at night. Oh sure, we could make the kids clean up after themselves, except our administrators live in fear of lawsuits, and making a kid pick up the lunch tray he threw on the floor has been considered forced child labor. There’s also the very real possibility that a belligerent kid will just take a swing at one of us — again — because he or she wasn’t taught respect for authority at home. Did I mention how we had to let go of our security officers because we could no longer afford them? We now share one single solitary Oklahoma County Sheriff’s deputy with our ninth grade center and our middle school and alternative school. That’s one deputy for about 1,300 students.

We can no longer afford rolls of colored paper or paint or tape to make signs to support and advertise our Student Council activities. This fall our football team won’t charge through a decorated banner as they take the field because we can’t afford to make the banner. There won’t be any new textbooks in the foreseeable future. Broken desks won’t be replaced. We’re about to ration copy paper and we’ve already had the desktop printers taken out of our rooms.

We live in fear that our colleagues will leave us, not just because they are our friends, but because the district wouldn’t replace them even if we could lure new teachers to our inner-city schools during the teacher shortage you have caused. We fear our classes doubling in size.

We fear becoming as ineffective as you are. Not because we can’t or won’t do our job, like you, but because you keep passing mandates to make us better while taking away all the resources we need just to maintain the status quo. We fear that our second jobs will prevent us from grading the papers or creating the lesson plans we already have to do from home. We fear our families will leave us because we don’t have time for them.

I am the chairman of my department. My teachers could easily take other jobs in the private sector where they would make more money, but so far they have chosen to remain teachers because they love working with kids. How long will they continue to put the needs of students over the needs of family? It’s something we’re all dealing with. How far will you push us? What will you do without us when we leave the classroom or leave the state? It’s happening. You know it’s happening, and yet you do nothing.

You, the representatives, senators, and governor of Oklahoma are creating a population of ignorant peasants fit only to work in the oil field and factories you bring to this state by promising those businesses won’t have to pay their fair share of taxes. You leave our kids in a cycle of poverty and abuse while your pet donor oil companies destroy the bedrock beneath us, shaking our homes to pieces while you deny your part in all of it.

Parents, I beg you to love your children the way we love your children. Vote for people who will help teachers educate and nurture the kids we share. We can’t do it alone anymore.

795 responses to “Open Letter to Oklahoma Voters and Lawmakers”

  1. You’re a good man. Thank you for bring this to the light. Now those who know have no excuse

  2. Ashley Reames class of 09 Avatar
    Ashley Reames class of 09

    Wedel you were such an amazing teacher when I went to school. Your an amazing person and you make a difference in all of those students, even some like me who never got the opportunity to have you as a teacher, but you would still help if we approached you. You never had better things to do, you were never came to school in a bad mood, you never took it out on us kids, and you never did just the bare minimum to keep your job. I admire you so much and I hope the other kids you’ve affected in life will do what they can to take your life lessons and apply them to a better world for our future generations. Thank you

  3. I applaud you……you’ve said what every teacher in this state is feeling and thoroughly understands……may the force of this letter find it’s target……

  4. Thank you for this unabashed assessment of what is happening today…God bless you and give you dstrength to carry on…

  5. This is hands-down the best letter I’ve ever read about the state of our education system. I am a retired teacher, and because my husband was able to support our family quite well, I did not have to lean on my salary for our family. I was one of the lucky ones; I could financially support the things my students needed, whether it was food, clothing, books, etc. However, it didn’t stop me from being furious with our so-called leaders for not providing what my fellow teachers needed and deserved. Thank you for so eloquently writing about what Oklahoma teachers must endure, and God bless you!

  6. Very powerful message I agree with everything you said!!!!

  7. You said everything that needed to be said….thank you….those of us working in Oklahoma schools hope someone hears you……I hope….we hope.

  8. Thank you, Steven, for speaking the heart of Oklahoma teachers who really do love our jobs, and our students, and just need so much support than we are getting. Well done. I hope it is read by the people who can do something about it, in hopes they will do something about it.

  9. Important question from a fellow mandatory reporter…did you report the instances of hunger/lack of food, fear of going home, and inability to contact legal guardian to the required agency? In our state, if a parent doesn’t pick a child up from school, doesn’t feed a child properly, etc…that is considered neglect. If we don’t report it, we can be held liable through fines.

    1. Not every person in a position of trust shoves a needy child into the overworked/overwhelmed CPS office. Some actually care enough to DO something. This teacher is awesome and I only wish my children had had a teacher like him when they were in school. They might still be there today.

      Some parents, like myself, are unable to pay for things our children need. Things like coats in the wintertime and shoes. I home school my children now because the school system decided to call CPS on my then 2nd grader because he didn’t have a coat in 15 degree weather. They didn’t bother finding out that another kid had stolen it from him that morning and had thrown it out the window of the bus. I ended up having to go to court over this!

      Some teachers know that the childs family has it rough, financially and take time to do things for/ with these kids. Not because they are mandated to but because it’s the COMPASSIONATE thing to do. A mistreated child needs help, CPS sometimes can’t because of money or personnel issues. As a teacher, the first thing I did is ask the child what the home is like, in complete confidentiality. I told NO ONE unless the child was in danger. I built trust with these children and was the parent figure they didn’t have at home. Sometimes it’s as easy as opening your heart. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

  10. I just wished we had more teacher’s like you sir, that honestly cared for our kids. Unfortunately my kids are in a school system that ranks the worst in this State! in this so far behind times, not only on a technical level, but financial as well. I have seen my State continually lose touch with reality! And become poor! We have little infrastructure here, yet we can pay 23 year old men millions of dollars to play basketball, in a city no where near big enough to support that kind of financial burden. However we can’t afford to give our kids a decent education, makes me sick! Oklahoma Government officials on every single level have lost touch with reality. If the American people won’t stand up, then our kids will have nothing to fight for!

  11. Your comments are great, but get out and vote the bastards out. Our State is becoming a joke because of the idiots we elect and the laws they pass. Tax breaks for the richest people and corporations, no matter the harm to our children and the education system we so desperately need to improve. All the time claiming they stand for family values. Maybe for their families but not yours. Vote Tuesday and make it count, because they sure will.

  12. Amazingly said! All truth. Teachers like you are the ones who count in each of those children’s life. You make a difference to the children who are living with the circumstances you named. God bless you!

  13. It is time to force the legislature, governor, parents, and citizens to fund education. I am a retired teacher…35 years in HS English..I think it is time for teachers to walk away from our classrooms in order to properly educate our kids. There is no other way to be heard.

  14. I believe it has gone viral. I feel the exact same way you do here in NC. Best of luck getting your state and community to love and support your kids; I know I continue to wish ours cared about them as much as I do.

  15. As a resident of Wisconsin, we witnessed this time and again. I have to take this with a grain of salt because I don’t know how your salary relates to the children’s resources directly. We’ve all been dinged in this Obama Economy.
    Something that always makes me bitter is when an instructor tries to make a legitimate point, yet goes on a political tangent. By the way, I had to pay my own way and my child will have to pay his. Introduce your children to the grant process. Obama has also taken over educational lending, so there’s that as well.
    Have a nice day and many applause on the few you’ve had an impact on! We need more dedicated to the profession that will do that no matter what!

    1. Get you head out of your —, Wisconsin. Your name on your comment tells me a lot about your political bias. We are talking about elementary and secondary education, which is supposed to be free to every child. We are not speaking about college grants or educational loans. As far as your grain of salt comment, most teachers I know use part of their meager salaries to buy school supplies for their students that can’t afford them. Teachers are overworked, underpaid and in many cases under appreciated. Think for yourself and try not to blame everything on President Obama.

      1. I’ll give you under paid and under appreciated but over worked? They get 2 months off in the summer and nearly 3 weeks in they year. Also a lot of schools start at 8 and end at 3-3:45. I wouldn’t say that’s a bad gig. Yes it’s hard but their hours are pretty good and summer jobs are out there.

        1. Not married to a teacher are you? Class room time, 8 to 3:45, and then lesson plans, grading papers, doing administrative work, possibly putting in time at a school event (sports, debate, band, etc.). During that two month vacation there is often continuing education or work to maintain their certification. Just ask a teacher.

  16. Wow…just wow! I can’t even imagine the struggle you, your teachers, and your students are facing. This makes me so sad. And scared.
    As a parent of elementary aged children and a voter, I want to make a difference. However, I don’t even know where to begin. How do we know, when voting at the polls, who will best help our wonderful teachers and the children you nurture? So many candidates say that education is a priority – but then we find ourselves in the situation we are at present. It’s hard not knowing who to trust.

  17. I am glad you had the courage to speak your mind. I feel that education is a way we can elevate our children from poverty. I am a nurse with a disable husband. I had to work 3 jobs most of my career just to make ends meet with our economy and ensure my children had a great education. I was one of those parents that spent most of my free time at school with my children. I saw other people children just like what you had mention. I was consider Momma to more than my own children with mentoring them. My children are now also grown. I have five, One engineering assisted, electrician, dental hygienist, one graduating mechanical engineering and my baby starting electrical engineering next semester. I am also in school to continuing my education in mater program in Nursing education so I can give back to nursing. I commend you in your job and hope you continually push our children to be better. I plan to help as many of our children in the state of Alabama I can to succeed to be better than me. J Pearson RN

  18. I applaud you for this truth you have unfolded and I can add the same holds true for mental health therapists in Oklahoma. We are slowly being rendered ineffective due to large case loads, no supplies, limited salaries, no benefits making it difficult to treat the issues carried by our children. I am not sure I can afford to give anymore.

  19. I can really feel you on just about everything you say, I do not agree with you blaming Michelle Obama’s lunches for the kids starving now that’s ludicrous, it’s the parents responsibility to make sure their kids are not starving. I don’t see anything wrong with making healthy lunches. There are way too many obese kids. The blame should be on Grand Old Mary Fallen for all the budget cuts, no raises where is the money going?

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