LAWTON, Okla._ The effects of continued budget cuts and a lack of resources topped teachers' concerns today at a district-wide open forum for Lawton Public Schools.
More than 1,000 educators gathered at Lawton High School to voice their concerns with states senators and representatives before the start of the legislative session in February. They're especially concerned about some of the mandates connected to the common core curriculum.
Many teachers said they are exhausted and fed up with doing more with less. More work from home which they are not compensated for and more students in their classrooms than ever before have made their jobs stressful, they say.
Teachers are convinced the continued cuts and a teacher shortage are negatively affecting LPS students.
Debi Green, a kindergarten teacher at Park Lane Elementary, says the new guidelines require her 5-year-old students to have a 90-minute uninterrupted reading period.
"It's not developmentally appropriate," said Green.
She spoke about challenges she faces, which many educators can relate to, including having 30 students in her class. The typical class size is between 18-20 students.
"We know we have a shortage of applicants," said Tom Deighan, superintendent of Lawton Public Schools. "We know we have positions that we have open that nobody is applying for."
Finding qualified teachers to fill positions in the district has proved to be a challenge in recent months and Deighan said it's especially concerning because over the next five years the district is set to hire more than 400 teachers.
"There is not the supply of teachers to meet the demand that is coming up," according to Deighan.
Teachers say another problem area is the excessive amount of standardized testing mandated by the state.
"They're 8-year-olds and we are test crazy with them," said Cheryl Tate, 3rd grade teacher at Woodland Hills Elementary.
The art of teaching is out the window, she says, and it's more about the science of getting students to pass required tests.
"It takes away the fun and enjoyment out of teaching and the kids feel the pressure with all the testing we have to do," said Tate.
Budget cuts are also a roadblock in many classrooms. Since 2008, the district has seen a 23 percent cut in state funding.
"I have spent tons of my own money providing resources and getting the things we need for my class," says Tate.
Oklahoma did earn a top ranking in education for cutting more than any other state in the nation.
Now, the district is undergoing changes, according to the superintendent, including a recruitment process to lure skilled teachers into the area to provide the resources needed for the more than 16,000 students in the Lawton public school system.