Teachers Fighting for More than Pay
Teachers are in OKC fighting to get more resources for their students.
Yesterday I talked to a mom who told me her son was in an AP class that had just four books for the entire class. They played the game Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide which lucky students would get the books. The rest of the class had to research low-price options online and buy them, even though many of the students couldn’t afford to buy books. While this teacher found a darkly humorous way to handle the problem, the same resource-juggling game plays out year after year in classrooms across the state.
I also talked with Union ELL (English Language Learner) teacher Katerina Alder when she visited my office this week. Alder’s story could be any Oklahoma teacher’s story. Alder is committed to her students, yet she is struggling to do the best job she can, while dealing with financial stress at home. She has been teaching for 20 years, the last 10 at Union Ninth Grade Center. Her average class is 30 students, which she said is double what she had last year, and much larger than her average class sizes of 24 students that she taught in Europe.
“I know it is best practices for ELL classes to have less than 25 students. If somebody is wondering why test scores in Europe are so much higher compared to the U.S., I believe smaller class size is one of the reasons,” Alder said.
While Alder knows that hands-on activities that reinforce lessons, and having students move around every 30 minutes are “best practices” for teaching, her 30-plus students are trapped in a classroom meant for 24 or fewer. She said students are literally crawling under desks to get out of the room or to move from place to place.
“My classroom has 12 desks,” she said, “so I have 24 seats, and all additional students get a chair, but no desk. Would our legislators be willing to put their son or daughter in a room with no proper seating arrangement for academic success?”
Alder also says that more than 50 percent of her students are on IEPs (Individualized Education Plans meant for students with special needs), “most of whom are required to be placed in smaller classes.” (For information on class sizes for students with IEPs, go to sde.ok.gov. Class size can depend on the age of the child and the amount of time that child is in the regular classroom.)
Despite her overcrowded classroom and lack of resources, Alder is determined to create a positive environment for her students. “At the beginning of every year, when we read the syllabus,” she said, “I tell my students that we are family, and I really mean it. As their teacher, mother, friend and mentor, I am doing everything possible and impossible to create a family environment in my class, connect my ELL students with each other, and with English speaking students, and keep up our team spirit ‘Strong Together’.”
When Alder learned that some of her students were living with distant relatives and were not celebrating birthdays, she got to work. She now celebrates with seasonal birthday lunches with the help of Anthem Church, a partner in education for the school. She also writes grants to take her students on field trips, a reward for good grades.
Teachers are in Oklahoma City fighting, not for themselves, but for their students – your children – and the woeful lack of resources available to them.
But lest we forget the financial strain on teachers, Katerina Alder also shared her recent Facebook Post: