• Shawn Sheehan

All I Want for Christmas is a Reason to Keep Teaching in Oklahoma


Dear Santa,

All I want for Christmas is a reason to keep teaching in Oklahoma. It’s getting harder and harder for me to find reasons to keep teaching in this state. I’ve been a good teacher this year - I promise! I was selected as Teacher of the Year, I was a Finalist for National Teacher of the Year, and I ran for office. And even without the titles, I’ve been an excellent teacher to my students. We’ve tried some new methods in class and had tons of fun learning math, but, well, I don’t know.


I’m frustrated because I’ve been made to feel guilty about asking for more. Some legislators in my state have portrayed educators as whiny and impossible to please. They say we should stop complaining and that we should have known going into this profession wouldn’t be lucrative. Santa, I knew it would be tough. I did. I knew I’d never be financially rich, but that the rewards of educating children would balance everything out. Thank you notes serve as my currency in this profession. But thank you notes don’t pay the bills.

Santa, I’m making less money now than when I started teaching five years ago. Here's my paycheck from May of my first year of teaching:



And here's my latest paycheck, nearly five years later:



My monthly salary has decreased steadily since I was selected as Teacher of the Year for a few reasons. After stepping out of the classroom last year to travel and speak, I had to step away from my department chair position and lost some money there. Plus, I could no longer teach an extra hour each day, costing me $4,000 over the year. And when I made the decision to run for office last April, I took a gamble and chose to step away from teaching special education and switched over to general education, further reducing my pay since special education teachers in my district receive an additional 5% of their base salary. Rounding out the reductions is the new addition of our sweet baby girl on my insurance.


This month’s paycheck is $1,872. After rent, and a few bills, my account will be back down to, well, I’m embarrassed to say. And once my wife's maternity leave ends, we'll have a huge expense in daycare costs. My wife, Kaysi, is also a teacher and she makes a little more than I do since she teaches an extra class, but I don’t think we can do this. I have my Master’s degree and while I know I’m doing exactly what God wants me to do in this world, I feel like my state is punishing me for teaching. I helped launch the penny sales tax initiative to secure a teacher salary increase and provide much needed funding in other areas of education, but my neighbors, friends and family voted against it last month. I get it. Tax increases aren’t favorable and it did feel like we were letting legislators off the hook. I think there will be some unintended consequences and lawmakers will feel less inclined to secure teacher pay increases. Many people tell me they want to fund education, but when it comes time to make the tough decisions, we default back to the same old same old and end up losing more resources for our students in the process.


Our state isn’t generating the recurring revenue it needs to, due in large part to poor tax policies in place, but I certainly don’t want my salary increased at the cost of other agency’s resources. Santa, I’d be completely fine if I knew that the funding for students in my classroom and across the state would improve. Above my own salary increase, I’d keep teaching if there was hope that education in this state will get better. You know I’m an eternal optimist (#TeachLikeMe), but with everything I see happening at the federal and state levels, I’m worried there are dark times ahead in education. 


This Christmas, all I want is a reason to keep teaching in Oklahoma. My wife and I would be in a different tax bracket if we moved out of state. People talk about cost of living, but the amount of student loan debt we have is the same whether we live in Oklahoma or elsewhere. If I stay here, I can only continue making the same minimum payment on the credit cards and student loans my wife and I share. People forget about that when they tell me about cost of living, Santa. Nor am I financially irresponsible. We cut cable a long time ago, so Netflix ($10/month) is our sole source of entertainment. As a math teacher, budgets are my thing and we had some crunching to do when we recently refinanced my wife’s private student loans and consolidated her federal ones. Had we not refinanced, our account balance would be in the red each month. The thing is, there are starting pay scales in surrounding states that are at levels that will take me 30 years to attain. Again, there are teachers in nearby states with startingsalaries that are the same as 30-year educators in Oklahoma. It’s hard to ignore. My old roommate who taught with me at Norman High two years ago made the move down to Lewisville ISD in Texas. Here's a link to the new teacher salary schedule in his school district.


I know it’s a lot to ask, Santa, but I’m hoping you can help. I’ll continue to pray daily, but I figured I’d also try writing you and asking you for a Christmas miracle. The Sheehans are willing to wait this out just a little longer before we call it for good and leave to teach elsewhere. We just want to provide for our sweet baby girl and do the job God called us to do. I hope that’s not asking too much.


Sincerely,


Shawn, Kaysi & Scarlett Sheehan