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In a news conference Monday, state Superintendent of Schools Joy Hofmeister said “we can’t ignore and can’t dismiss any longer” the issue of teacher pay and “respect for teachers.”

Those are concerns Hofmeister has expressed before. But now she will have an extensive survey in hand when she goes to the legislature this session.

The survey showed that among teachers who have already left positions in Oklahoma, the top two reasons for leaving were pay and the inability to make professional decisions about instruction in their own classroom.

Worn thin

She said that because teachers were leaving the state or dropping out of teaching, class sizes have increased for the teachers who are still in the classroom.

“Our teachers are worn thin,” said Hofmeister pointing to the inability of some districts to find any teachers at all for some positions.

When that happens, the only option is to increase class size, which puts greater demands on the teachers who are still teaching.

Focused survey

The Oklahoma Department of Education commissioned an extensive survey of the roughly 30,000 teachers in Oklahoma who are keeping their certifications up to date, but not teaching.

Within that group, the survey focused on a subgroup of 5,487 respondents below the age of 65, who substantially filled out the survey and who are not presently teaching.

This type of careful targeting returned survey results that the firm Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates determined to be “less than 1% margin of error.”

One of the efforts was to evaluate how the state might draw those certified teachers currently not teaching back into active involvement in the profession.

The survey was funded by the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center. The Education Department gave input into the design of the survey.

The ask

Hofmeister said she will be asking for a $5,000 raise for teachers in upcoming budget talks with the legislature and use the survey as the starting point for her push.

That’s the raise the survey showed might be enticing to those who left the practice of teaching over pay issues.

Hofmeister cited low pay as the top factor in other alarming indicators that the teaching profession in Oklahoma is in trouble.

She gave examples.

Oklahoma schools of education that have been the primary pipeline for well-prepared teachers in the past have seen a 30% drop in applicants as the request for emergency certifications to fill positions has doubled over the last two years.

Working environment

But teacher pay was only one of the strong factors the survey revealed for why teachers have left the practice of teaching.

The second largest factor cited by respondents was the “working environment.”

Teachers felt that they were not able to manage their own classrooms in ways their professional knowledge would lead them if they had enough autonomy to do so.

Former teachers across many age, experience and location groups responded by 70 to 80 percent that they thought the classroom management and the working environment had deteriorated either “somewhat” or “a great deal.”

We have reported the struggle teachers have in Oklahoma City Public Schools when students resort to violence to try and resolve their differences.

Although Hofmeister strongly committed to pushing for the pay raise, she was far less clear about how much she would push for improving professional autonomy for teachers with the Republican supermajority in the Legislature.

Republicans have passed increasingly restrictive standards for public schools and public school teachers over the last decade of their control.

OKCPS

Free Press reached out to Oklahoma City Public Schools to ask about how the downturn in teacher retention has affected the largest district in the state. The district has approximately 46,000 students with the majority qualifying for free and reduced lunch.

Janis Perrault, OKCPS Chief of Human Resources responded.

Even though the district pays above the state minimums, they still engage in several unique processes to cultivate a pipeline of teaching talent, said Perrault.

OKCPS collaborates with the University of Central Oklahoma to run Urban Teacher Prep Academy to orient and train Education majors to give them confidence in applying for and being successful teaching in a district like OKCPS where teachers have to help students cope with urban problems and urban poverty.

The Bilingual Teacher Pipeline Project is seeing success in recruiting bilingual teaching assistants to go ahead and get their education degree and become teachers in the district.

The district provides financial assistance with that program and with certification exams for emergency certified teachers to take exams and become alternatively certified.

Even with those extensive measures, the district currently has 207 emergency certified teachers, will submit another 10 at the January meeting of the state Board of Education for approval, and then will submit one more at the February meeting, said Perrault.

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