OKC Teacher Walkouts “The Time is Now”

By: Lauren Bagwell

I first sat down to write this blog post with the intent to research and tell the story of what has been happening in Oklahoma with the teacher walkouts. However, instead of writing a post full of my insights on the teacher walkouts, I decided it was far better to use this space to give a voice to the teachers who have actually experienced the walkouts first hand. Below are the voices of Kelsey Barbee, Lauryn Capsey, Stephanie Wendland, and Alicia Wilson, all of who are fifth grade teachers in Catoosa, Oklahoma.

Why Walk Out? Why Now?

 Lauryn Capsey: “I am a product of Oklahoma public schools. I remember rainy days at my middle school when our janitor had to put black trash bags over ceiling tiles because our roof was leaking. The hallway ceiling tiles looked like a checkers board: white, black, white, black. I remember having to move classroom locations in 7th grade because the mold on the ceiling tiles was becoming a health threat. Additionally, the textbooks I used in school were 15 years old with torn pages and outdated information. Looking back, my textbooks stacked on my desk were a reminder to me as a student that my government did not care enough about me to take care of my educational needs.

Despite the conditions of my Oklahoma public school, I knew my purpose in life was to be a teacher. Every time someone discovered that I wanted to be a teacher, they would always ask, “Why? Why become a teacher when you could become something greater?” Pushing away the comments of others, I pursued my degree in elementary education at Baylor University. Even while I studied, I got questions from people like, “Why are you going to Baylor just to become a teacher?” I graduated and worked at a public elementary school in Waco, Texas. There I was respected, appreciated, supported, and challenged.

After a year, I moved back to Oklahoma and found the public schools and teaching conditions exactly how I had left them. Disrespected. Unappreciated. Unsupported. Unchallenged. This left me heartbroken. So you ask me why I walk? I walk because students and teachers of public education in Oklahoma deserve respect. I walk so present and future Oklahoma students feel respected by their school environment and their textbooks. I walk so future prospective Oklahoma educators feel respected in their profession decisions. I walk as a product of Oklahoma public schools and as an educator of Oklahoma public schools because I believe in creating a better educational experience for my present and future students and co-teachers.”

Kelsey Barbee:Walking out was a hard decision to come to and did not go without deep thought! If it wasn’t for all the support from our 5th grade team, school district and local community, I don’t think I could have went through with this process. It was important to carry this out now as the legislature has consistently cut the education budget every year that I have been a teacher since graduating three years ago. The Oklahoma Legislature tried to patch the bleeding wound just before the walkout occurred by partially filling the demands of the teachers. Teachers did not accept this last ditch effort as the Oklahoma Legislature did not even come close to filling the funding gap that they had created over the last several years.”

Alicia Wilson:Over the last decade or so our government has continued to cut education year after year. Each year our state government has continued to say, ‘Sorry, there’s just not enough for education.’  ‘No raise this year.’ Not only were there not enough funds for teacher raises, the state has continued to cut funding by tens of millions each year.  This has led to programs being cut from schools completely, such as Music, PE, and Art. There is no money left for resources like updated textbooks, workbooks, and technology, right down to the chairs the students sit in. Teachers do not get paid for the days we are off during the walkout; we have to make up each day at the end of the year.  These are not paid vacation days; there is not such thing for teachers.  We are traveling to the capital each day on our own dime. Teachers are resilient, we MADE it work with limited resources because our students are way too important, and we won’t let them down!  So, what did we do?  We used our own (very little) money to help supplement the resources, we will do whatever it takes to make our students successful.  At this point, we have depleted all of our own resources, and for most it’s hard to even feed our own families.  We are in a desperate place.  Desperate times, call for desperate measures!  This is definitely desperate times!  So, we march!  We march, we chant, we make signs, and we talk to legislators until we get what we need for our students!”

Stephanie Wendland: “Teachers have been waiting for funding for years. If we don’t take a stand now, what has happened to funding will continue to happen.”

What has the environment been like at the capitol? How have you seen teachers come together?

Kelsey Barbee:The environment at the Capitol has been nothing short of amazing! I have never felt so many emotions all at once. It is overwhelming at the number of people who can come together peacefully to promote a common cause. The feeling of frustration at the legislature for not meeting the basic needs of public education, empowerment among educators for standing up for what is right, and encouragement as we are supported throughout this process in making our voices heard. The mutual feeling that is running among all educators is that we miss our students immensely and would rather be teaching but this is important!”

Stephanie Wendland:I was there on Tuesday, April 3rd. Teachers were lined up in front of the capitol dancing to the Cha Cha Slide. I thought it was wonderful because even under dire circumstances, this is a group of people who still know how to turn it into a good time.”

Lauryn Capsey: “The environment at the capitol has been one of encouragement. I have been so inspired by the way my fellow Oklahoma educators have joined together to urge our legislators to respect our public school systems. We have marched, chanted, sang, and stood united.”

Alicia Wilson: “The environment at the Capitol and all over OKC has been very welcoming and encouraging.  Each day I came home from the Capitol I have been motivated, encouraged, and had the feeling of empowerment.  Everyone was encouraging and just nice…. I felt supported and united with all other teachers from this great state!”

What do you wish others would understand about the walkout?

Alicia Wilson: “We NEED certain resources to do our job!  If any other profession had poor working conditions, they would quit or demand that those conditions be fixed.  That’s where teachers are right now.  Enough is enough! The time is now!  We are fed up, our students are fed up, and our parents are fed up”

Stephanie Wendland:Unless you are in it every day, then you can’t fully understand the circumstances in which we teach and the students learn. In our school district we have only one nurse, our books are dated 10+years (and have the ripped pages to prove it), our 4th grade classrooms are nearing 30 students per teacher, water fountains that don’t work, a four-day week – the list goes on and on. Our morale is kept by the positive attitude that the teachers portray. But enough is enough.”

Lauryn Capsey: “[To anyone who might disagree with the walkouts] I would simply ask them, “Do you like being respected?” Every human being would answer, “Yes.” I’d respond with, “Me too. That’s why I’m walking. I want myself, my students and my co-teachers to be respected.”

Kelsey Barbee: “I would suggest that they come step in my shoes for a day and see the limited resources I have to meet the many different needs of so many learners in my classroom. Education directly affects each and every person daily in some way. Without education, they would not be where they are today regardless of what they chose as their career in life.”

What do you think the future of education holds?

Lauryn Capsey: “The future of education holds much potential because our present teachers are determined to change the course of Oklahoma’s public education. The same educators who are rallying at the Capitol to challenge Oklahoma’s status quo for public education are the same determined educators who will be leading their classrooms. The future of education from this point on will be united and respected.”

Alicia Wilson: “I think the future of Oklahoma education holds greatness!  I think we have been heard, loud and clear!  We will see change.  It may not be everything we want/need, but it’s a great start!  I think there is about to be great change in Oklahoma education.”