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. Face it, education is passe. A kid in school these days has three choices upon his/her exit:
    1) Go to college and amass a crippling amount of debt.
    2) Enter the military and be sacrificed to the war machine, but glorified as a war hero.
    3) Go to jail

    Children are a commodity in this brave new world. They aren’t here to further our civilization anymore; they are pawns to be played where they can be used to profit someone else. I can’t imagine raising a kid these days. Even the best parent is waging an uphill battle

  2. Mr. Wedel I applaud you for taking a stand. I also love your love for our kids. Thank you for pointing out what many know yet refuse to face. Thank you for being a role model!

  3. Amen, brother! Having taught in inner city schools with from 27 to 39 kids in a class, in the primary grades, I can validate much of what you have said…However, there were equal numbers of kiddos with loving, responsible parents who were busy working 2&3 minimum wage jobs just to remain at functional poverty level, as opposed to indigent, and keep ANY kind of roof over their heads, even if that roof were on a vehicle. NO ONE has a clear understanding of the inequities in this country until you have taught in a classroom. Years ago, whilst teaching a very needy and tender 2nd grade class, I missed one day of school mid-year, for a doctor’s visit with my 6-month-old son. Upon my return, I was told that one of my students, parentless and living with a very overburdened relative, crawled under a table, curled in a fetal position crying for “Mrs. Audet…my teacher…where is my teacher?” She remained in that position for hours. I never missed another day that year. Yet, I, too, may have to leave my profession to seek a career which can help my youngest through college and ensure that, as I reach retirement, I can avoid the same fate, poverty, as many of my students face. I, too, work summer school and have a retail job to just stay afloat. I also spend far more on my classroom than does the school. As do most teachers. Who pays field trip fees for those who can’t? Who buys birthday gifts for those who won’t receive one if you don’t? But there is so much more to rejoice in when you teach. And rejoice I shall…because I don’t spend my days making things, or making lots of money…i make life matter to lives that matter…I love my job and treasure it every day, because one day I may be forced to leave it.

  4. I hear your pain. Several years ago my husband drove a school bus for Union Schools in Tulsa. He loved his job, and the kids loved him. The little kids wanted hugs every morning, but rules were set to eliminate hugs. Hugs that kids didn’t get at home. I was going to teach in KC in the early 70s. Already there were security guards. I didn’t grow up that way. I never taught high school English as I had planned. I understand your dilemma and I so hope things change and improve for the teachers sake and the students. We are dumbing down our kids and letting techy things take ovet. God speed.

  5. Good for you for stating what everyone else is afraid to say. Thank you for speaking out!

  6. Well said! Am behind our teachers! Not our legislators!

  7. Steven I admire what you have written and I know there are hundreds of teachers who would echo your words. I cannot imagine being a teacher in today’s world (I also can’t imagine people who opt for being police officers) — families aren’t “families” any longer and children are the ones suffering the consequences. I am in my 80’s and I grew up in quite a few different schools across the country. Every teacher I had were kind and considerate, we had no “Common Core”, no tests every other day to see if YOU our teachers were teaching correctly or we children were learning what we should. Just plain good old “Three R’s” — yes a few problem kids in school acting out but not what you are faced with every day. School was fun, learning was fun and our teachers were great! Our world is no longer the wonderful way it was years ago. No decent people to even vote for any more. I live in Wyoming but I’m sure many problems are the same countrywide. Please keep on doing what you are doing — even if you succeed in helping ONE of your students become great — you have done your job, sir. I commend you, Steven!

  8. Sorry — just as I clicked I noticed my email was not correct by ONE letter. See correct one here.

  9. Thank you for your heart and your stand! I promise to contact each of my elected officials and let them know that I too believe they are a disgrace and demand accountability of what they have done and are currently doing to better the pay of teachers and to provide adequate funding. Lack of action for either is the same as child abuse. Stand tall!

  10. I was a perpetually homeless young lady but thankfully, not because of drug abuse. My Dad was a Vietnam Vet and he was badly damaged after the War. So while we lived in great poverty, I always had my parents. I know the schools you talk about because they were my schools. I shared last week with my now 21 yo, Senior at UCCS, that in 6th grade, my glasses did not have any arms on either side and i kept them on my face with string which went over both my ears. i was in 6th grade. My teacher noticed that I was ashamed and hiding and he asked me to go to him. For years, the expression on his face when he looked at me I interpreted as disgust and it followed me. But as i grew older, i understood that it was less about disgust toward me but more disgust toward society in general and his inability to do more than he could. I had many teachers who helped me. My music teacher was a black man and even though i was white, he was kind and patient with me. He allowed me use of his room in high school when i needed to just get away. Years later, i realized that the reason he never stayed in the same room alone instead going to the teachers area was because of hateful people who could only see ugly things in his kind gesture. I ended up in the Marine Corps and then later Clemson University. My son is now 21 and I’m so very proud of him as he wants to go on for his Masters. I know the children you speak about and the heartache. But sometimes it only takes one hand to reach out that prevents another from falling into the abyss. Thank you.

  11. I think I found the problem on the political side:

    “Today, Oklahoma’s federal representation and statewide offices are all held by the Republican Party, which also holds supermajorities in both chambers of the state Legislature.”


    When will the people realize that the GOP is not there to help you? They are there to cut taxes for the wealthy and help big business. Period.

    1. Democrats are no different. Once they assume the office it becomes a game of “me me me” no matter which party is in charge. There are no good politicians, anymore.

      1. Is this what you tell yourself so you don’t feel guilty voting for GOP candidates? Because it’s not true they’re the same. There are problems on both sides of the isle, but they are different problems.

        Until the voters in this country realize this, they will continued to experience problems like the good teacher wrote about.

  12. Bravo, sir. I hope this letter get the attention it deserves, and your school district and others like it gets the help it needs

  13. There are so many problems with the ‘education’ system in this country it is hard to know where to start. The author correctly identifies one of the biggest problems; i.e., shattered home lives. It almost doesn’t matter how much money we spend, how many teachers we hire or how much we pay them, kids who live in broken homes will struggle to learn. The statistics tell the story; the most important determiners of a child’s success in school, or failure, are the education and economic levels of the parents. Kids born to well-educated and economically stable parents do far better than their peers in broken homes and living in poverty. How do we begin, as a society, to tackle THAT problem? Worse, if we’re relying on feckless, self-serving career politicians to help, we’re pushing on a string. There isn’t a single career politician willing to do anything for schools if it means taking on unions or taking money and attention away from their cronies, period. I, for one, don’t have anything to suggest; I wish I did. My daughter teaches high school English and we commiserate about these same problems all the time. As I said, it’s hard to know even where to start.

  14. Deana Criner San Juan Avatar
    Deana Criner San Juan

    I am a Native Tulsan. I absolutely share your frustration. I remember voting to add lottery so schools could get help. Bus routes were so cut and many other areas. The sad thing about voting that in was that the minute the schools started seeing money, other money that schools were receiving got pulled. And how much did it cost to change all the names of the schools and revamp the entire schooling system in Tulsa? That money should hv been used for improvements. I as well share your passion in educating and helping people. I dont know if you will ever read this but i was a young mother and i CHOSE to make better choices for myself. I recently wrote a piece in hopes that it might wake people up. Your letter if circulated will defineately make an impact as I am sure it already has. Dont quit helping those kids. If it wasnt for my teachers and coaches I wouldnt hv had 1/2 the things instilled in me or many of the opportunities I did. Thank you for writing such a heartlfelt and well needed letter. If i can volunteer in your cause in any way please let me know. If u ever read this personally here is a piece i wrote to help people. htpp:// ….. it is called A MOTHERS LOVE.

  15. I am a resident and a registered voter of Moore ok. I have not voted in several years due to the ignorance in politics. I simply looked away due to lack of concern in areas you are speaking of. We have become an energy state. But after reading your blog, I can promise I will be voting this time. I can only pray that it finds you and your colleagues well. God bless you and teachers alike for the love you show our children. I only wish we could do more.

  16. All I can say is thank you. You put in this letter so much of how I feel and what I am facing. I have been an educator for almost 18 years and I will be moving out of the state at the end of this school year. I have a special needs child that cannot get the therapy he needs in the state. They do not pay enough to attract the therapists needed. I love my students more than words can say, and this pains me greatly.

  17. Thank you for taking time to bring light to this. I know you are not alone, and there are many schools and many teachers struggling. What can I do to help?

    Any chance you can set up a page for the school? I would love to donate as a small way to help and I am sure there are others that would as well.

  18. Bottom line, the education system is broke because families are broke…just the way you heartwrenchingly describe. Even when I was teaching 20 yrs. ago when making phone calls to parents of 9th graders for a little parental reinforcement/oversight in behavior modification…more times than not, I was told that it was my problem. Not theirs, nor the student’s…mine. Parents must do their job at home…yes, it’s hard, yes you must sacrifice. Parenting is not for wimps. But teachers shouldn’t be expected to do both…they can’t do both though many try and give 200%. I appreciate your brutal honesty and my heart breaks for you and your students who are blessed to have you in their lives.

  19. Bravo. I sincerely hope your open letter has at least some effect. I left the education field because I felt the system was keeping me from educating kids. Something must change.

  20. WOW is all I can say because you have said it all!!!

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