It’s hard to make a difference when you struggle to make a living. This is an all too familiar reality for many teachers in Oklahoma. Sadly, what has become more tired is the talk from our leaders about the need to act but the lack of action. Here’s my story:
My last check was: $1,039.84. My next check will be the same. On a typical week, I get to work at 7:30 a.m. and leave around 5 p.m. That’s roughly 10 hours a day, not counting one or two hours at home, working on things for school. That’s about 12 hours a day, or 60 hours a week. Over two weeks, that’s 120 hours, which averages out to $8.66 an hour.
That’s a full $1.41 more than minimum wage.
Based on this salary, I would qualify for food stamps and my kids could be placed on SoonerCare. The same stubbornness that made me decide on education is the same stubbornness employed when I choose not to utilize these services. Why should I? Why should I have to seek assistance from the government to make the ends meet when I work educating students?
So no, I’m not going to go to Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services and get what would amount to a more than $400 per month raise; that lets our Legislature off the hook. I’d then be a “taker.” I’d be the one who gets looked at with disdain while waiting in line at the grocery store as the narrative formulates in onlookers’ minds.
“Oh, here’s a black guy using food stamps. He must have been lucky enough to pass his drug test. … Get a job.”
That’s the irony: I don’t have a job; I have a career, a career that impacts the lives of students and their families. I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to do with my skills and God-given talents.
I feel like I’m honestly doing my part. The question becomes, Are you?
There are various proposals that address teacher pay. Some call for cutting existing budget items, while others look to raise taxes. Regardless of the plan, if providing our teachers a competitive wage is a priority, where is the will to make these things happen? Our Legislature wants to support teachers — until we have to figure out how to pay for it. Then, we only want to pay those who teach at schools with passing letter grades.
I don’t envy the job of those who create policy and pass laws. I do, however, question the sincerity and commitment of those who say that children, education and teachers are priorities.
As a teacher, you often live within your means while living without your dreams.
It is a dream of mine to one day buy a house. It is a dream of mine to buy my family tickets to an Oklahoma City Thunder game. It is a dream of mine to be able to live and be a part of the resurgence our city is experiencing.
These are dreams that, at $8.66 an hour, are slowly turning into a nightmare.
Felix P. Linden Jr. works at Roosevelt Middle School’s seventh-grade Language Arts and Leadership Academy in Oklahoma City.