In Oklahoma, outdated textbooks fill classrooms, teachers struggle to pay their bills, and classes are overcrowded with students. Teachers have sparked well-deserved outrage and have rightfully taken to the streets to protest.

An enthusiastic Oklahoman first-grader, Marley Parker, came home to her mother with a textbook that country star Blake Shelton once read. While Marley was excited, her mother, on the other hand, was ashamed that Shelton had used the textbook 36 years ago and posted her frustration with the school system on Facebook. This scenario accurately demonstrates why many are frustrated with the legislature.  

On April 2, 2018, a nine-day strike began in Oklahoma. Teachers walked out of school to protest deformities in the education system such as low pay, large class sizes, and lack of funding. Several bills were passed by the state to improve educational funding, but many teachers’ demands were not met.

The Oklahoma legislature has made little effort to improve education. Teachers have called for a $200 million increase in educational funding, but the state only passed a $50 million increase. It is uncertain whether they are willing to continue to increase funding, even with this addition already implemented. Since 2008, Oklahoma’s education funding has decreased by about nine percent, leaving the state’s education stagnant.

As well, Oklahoman teachers have demanded smaller class sizes. In Oklahoma and across the United States, class size in public schools is one of the most pressing issues in the education system. According to a National Center of Education Statistics’ survey, Oklahoma has an average class size of 19.8 in high school departmentalized instruction. Such large classes only harm students’ learning, since students are only able to receive little attention. Teachers cannot be sure if all the students understand the material and many do not have time to meet with a student individually. With smaller classes, students would receive more individual attention and meetings with students would be more constructive and personal.

The pay of teachers in Oklahoma must be increased to improve education. While the average salary for teachers in the United States is $59,170, teachers in Oklahoma have the lowest wages in the country for the profession. Their average annual income of $42,460 is less than the salary of a gas station employee. The state legislature has passed a bill to give teachers a $6,100 raise, but it does not meet the $10,000 raise that school officials demand.

This lack of pay has resulted in a shortage of teachers. The state has issued many emergency teacher certifications, which allow schools to hire teachers with no teaching experience. In the 2017-2018 school year, the Oklahoma State Board of Education has already issued 23 percent more emergency teacher certifications than they did the previous school year. The low financial stability has scared many potential teachers away from studying education, and many see an office job as a better choice. By issuing emergency certifications, the state legislature has only put more unqualified teachers in classrooms.

Education is a social necessity, and thus teachers should have the wages to pay their bills. Teaching is a underrated and difficult profession. Teachers have many tasks that include grading papers, preparing lessons for each day, advising students, and meeting with pupils. In Oklahoma, the poor education system makes it difficult for teachers to carry out tasks efficiently. For example, with large classrooms and outdated textbooks, teachers may have to change their teaching style and shape their lesson plans to ensure that students are not learning outdated information. A lecture style for a large classroom allows students to be unengaged, and outdated information can leave them confused.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin (R) reacted against the protesting teachers by likening them to “a teenage kid that wants a better car.” Fallin’s metaphor is wrong-headed because teachers have stood silent for decades on their low wages and the poor funding for education. The governor should instead work to increase educational funding to solve problems such as the class sizes and the shortage of teachers. Teachers should have the right to protest due to the disrespect the state legislature has given them.

The low pay of teachers and lack of education funding has caused teachers to stand up for themselves. Teachers should continue to protest and voice their opinions until education is properly funded by the legislature. Parents and students should join the protest and fight for their right to a good education. The state of Oklahoma should increase education funding to enhance students’ learning. If teachers’ salaries increase, the profession can become a favorable career instead of a job for the otherwise unemployed.