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  • Writer's pictureShawn Sheehan

The Budget Cuts Awaken: 3 Ways Educators Can Survive the Cuts

Cue the bright yellow font scrolling upwards into the stars. It tells the story of a state where…

An empire is tightening its stranglehold on people who need help. The people are losing their resources via financial reductions. The people desperately need hope - a sign that things will get better, but the dark side seems ever-present.

The font fades and there is darkness below us, cementing that feeling that we are all alone and help is not on its way.

That’s what my Facebook and Twitter feeds look like right now. A story that feels familiar, but somehow newer, bigger, badder and more likely to break records. So I scroll through and read the blogs and articles, unable to “like” any of them.

Three years ago, I was in the Beta class for a newly-created program called OKMath and OKScience Leadership. While there, I strengthened my leadership, expanded my math and science teacher network, and created a campaign called Teach Like Me. Budget cuts mean that this program is now at risk.  Tiffany Neill and Levi Patrick, the fearless leaders of OKMath/OKSci Leadership, gave me the skills necessary to overcome adversity in our profession. I think they hoped their graduates would be the ones to bring balance back to the state.

The imbalance is still too strong, though. These budget cuts will surely have an adverse impact on our students, but so will apathetic, disengaged, angry, misguided, uninformed educators. Trying to understand why we’re in this situation is complicated and I do not have all the information, nor do I comprehend how all the cogs work in the education machine. So, I will simply offer what I believe to be ways for educators to stay above the waves and possibly right the ship. You’ll still feel the tide - as well you should - but it’s about being as solution-oriented as possible. That’s what OKMath/OKSci Leadership taught me.

1) Brace Yourselves: It pains me to say it, but the reality is that we need to brace for more cuts. It will look and feel different across schools and districts, but there will be casualties. Know that bracing for it is not the same as accepting it. I’m not saying we roll over and shrug it off. I’m saying don’t get caught off guard - be prepared and be knowledgeable of the issues. Be ready to answer questions your parents and students may have. Be ready to transition the way we do professional development. Conferences will be scrapped and PD days will be harder to come by, but there will still be ways to strengthen your teaching (if you don’t have a Twitter account - get one and follow #oklaed and #TeachLikeMe).

Bracing yourself also includes putting on your teacher face so that we minimize the negativity that gets to our classroom and students. This is not the same as being naive to the issues. We’ve all been there. You get awful news just moments before class starts. There’s a flash of despair and sadness. But when that first student walks through the door, you put on your teacher face and teach with joy and passion. Much of our job is protecting our children from the negativity. It’s about being a rockstar teacher in class and an education activist outside the class.

2) Rally Around Your School: Community members and parents will look to you for ways to help. They read the same headlines, they see the posts on Facebook, and they want to help. I’ve read about some different ideas going around about what people might choose to do with their tax returns this year. Some teacher friends of mine have considered donating portions of their tax returns to support our districts’ lunch programs, if possible. I’d recommend increasing the visibility of great programs that benefit your schools. For example, in Norman, if a parent asked me how she could help, I’d encourage her to join the PTA if she wasn’t already a member.

And if she’s looking to make a financial contribution, I’d tell her the Norman Public Schools Foundation does excellent work in providing grant money to teachers. Specific to Norman High School, we have a group of alumni and supporters called Tiger Society and their work and contributions directly benefit Norman High. Almost every school and district has programs and groups like these that support their schools and students. Rallying around these groups is an immediate action step that educators and community members can take to have a lasting, positive impact on their schools.

3) Vote Accordingly: If you vote like this, you’re doing it wrong.

Party lines aren’t black and white. I completely understand voting for a candidate based on various social issues, but do you know where he or she stands on education? Many times, I see my colleagues vote against individuals or legislation that would have directly benefitted them. It’s unusual when people align themselves with legislators based on religion or beliefs, but not on educational or economic positions. All this is to say that you should know that campaign season is upon us in 2016 and I will simply say that you should vote accordingly.

This is not a pitch for a specific party - it’s a pitch for the idea that as educators, you should at least know where your candidates stand on education. The bills are more than the letters and numbers used to identify it. Not sure where to start? Hate politics? Do you feel like there are individuals who are LOLing about this whole budget problem because they’re getting what they wanted and dismantling public education? Same. So you know what I do? I visit with my mentor teachers. That’s my starting point. I talk to those who have weathered previous storms and recall previous bills that helped and hurt education.

Last point on this - with any luck, a petition will come before you in the near future to get the penny sales tax initiative on the ballot. Talk it over with friends, family, business owners and policy makers. Just enter the conversation. More on this at a later date.

There’s no quick fix or easy answer on this one. You have tough choices to make. And although the budget cuts have awakened, it’s possible that there is still hope. There are chapters that have yet to be written. We’ve let others write these chapters for far too long. Tell your story. It is within your power to bring back balance. May the…

*Special thanks to my good friend and fellow educator, Claudia Swisher, for her help with edits!


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