Walking out on education: how the rising political climate affects teachers in Oklahoma

As lawmakers state- and nation-wide put their stamp on education, some teachers feel they are losing control over their own classrooms.
Published: May. 18, 2023 at 6:52 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) - Standardized testing, growing classroom sizes, and personnel shortages are all issues that teachers have long been dealing with.

Now comes a new challenge, a growing perception in some circles that teachers are indoctrinators, not educators.

“Me as the president of the Oklahoma Education Association, I can put that to the side, and I can say ‘that’s silly, it’s not happening’, but for our teachers and our support professionals that are doing this diligent work everyday, it is painful for them, and it needs to stop,” said the President of the Oklahoma Education Association Katherine Bishop.

Education has been one of the hottest topics at the Oklahoma State Capitol over the last couple of years. As lawmakers state- and nation-wide put their stamp on education, some teachers feel they are losing control over their own classrooms.

“As teachers, if you’re telling us that we are so limited as to what we can say and what we can teach, you’re putting us in a straight jacket,” said out-going teacher, Dr. Tarra Bates. “We cannot limit education. We cannot limit information. I may not agree with everything that’s in books. I don’t have to, but if I present this information, this information, my students have an opportunity now to form some kind of information for themselves. Some kind of ideal thinking for themselves.”

“Our teachers are savvy and they know that we preface things if there are certain issues we say, ‘hey, this is something that you would talk to your parents about at home’. Or that there’s going to be different views on this, but let’s stick to what the Oklahoma Academic standards are asking us to teach, and let’s concentrate on those basics and give you a safe environment to learn in,” added Nate Meraz, the superintendent of Elgin Public Schools.

State Superintendent of Public Education Ryan Walters has been vocal about his concerns over inappropriate material being available in Oklahoma schools.

“If you’re a parent and you question a book. Read it. Because what happens a lot of times in many of these situations where they have policies, they have committees, and they go and look at the literature. They all have to read it, and they come out and go, ‘huh. It wasn’t as bad as someone told me it was,” said Bishop.

Schools already have protocols in place to monitor any material that may be deemed questionable. Teachers are just one part of that equation.

“They consult with their principal, and they review and talk about the issues coming up,” said Meraz. “They disclose things, perhaps send something home to the parents, hey we’ll be exploring this topic. If you don’t want your child to sit in on this particular clip of video or anything like that, that’s common too.”

Many educators say the key to making sure students are getting an optimal education experience is a strong parent-teacher relationship.

“They’re a loan to me for that period of time, but that’s their child. And if parents will work with us, I’m telling you, we keep that student between us, then we can get them moved on,” said Dr. Bates.

“I encourage people to get engaged, get engaged with their students, get engaged with their schools. Read the books that they’re reading. Have discussions with your kids. That’s what we really want,” said Bishop.

As the school year comes to an end, teachers look to the months ahead, hoping for more clarity and understanding from those on the outside looking-in.