This editorial was first seen in the Tulsa World on October 15, 2017 written by Lyn Entzeroth, dean and Dean John Rogers Endowed Chair at The University of Tulsa College of Law. She is a member of the Tulsa World Community Advisory Board.
Miss Clara Fieselmann changed my life. She taught high school English and in tenth grade, and she opened up the magical world of language and writing to me.
As my teacher, she did far more than simply correct my spelling and grammar. She gave me in-depth feedback on everything I wrote. She showed me how to write more powerfully; she proved to me that my seemingly endless rewrites improved my work product, and she revealed to me how much fun the hard work of writing can be. I still rely upon the skills and insights she shared with me all those years ago.
Research shows student success depends on teachers like Miss Fieselmann. As Amanda Ripley noted in her article “What Makes a Great Teacher” (The Atlantic Jan./Feb. 2010), the teacher standing in front of the class makes a huge difference in student success. Recent studies make evident that effective teachers share some commonalities. They set high standards. They plan relentlessly. They focus on student learning. They don’t give up on themselves or their students. These teachers work long, hard hours for their profession and their students.
In looking back, I can see the ways in which Miss Fieselmann worked hard for her students. First, she set high expectations, and she pushed me to meet those expectations. I am sure I fell short of her expectations plenty of times, but she kept pushing and she continued to have faith in me. Second, she welcomed each class organized, prepared, and ready to challenge us. She held individual meetings with students working one-on-one to help us meet the goals she had set for each one of us. Third, she prepared multiple lesson plans for class. If students did not respond to her first plan, she had plenty of backup plans to keep them charged, engaged, and learning. Fourth, she did not simply care about the rules of grammar; she cared about the art and craft of writing. Fifth, she cared about the success of every single one of her students — every single one.
I talk with folks all the time who recall teachers who changed their lives. Teachers who challenged them. Teachers who engaged them. Teachers who would not let them slack off. Teachers who pushed them beyond their own expectations. Teachers who opened up a new area of interest. Teachers who changed their futures.
Great teachers are everywhere, and many of them teach in Oklahoma classrooms. Teachers who work late; teachers who meet with students outside of class time to help them understand the material; teachers who care about every student; teachers who plan and rework lessons to make sure that students learn; teachers who inspire; teachers who change the lives of their students for the better. Yet the budget failures in Oklahoma raise serious concerns about our schools’ ability to assure the continuation of such effective learning opportunities for our students.
Oklahomans are all too familiar with the damage the budget shortfall inflicts on our schools and children. According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, Oklahoma decreased K-12 funding by 23.6 percent between 2008 and 2015. According to the National Education Association and the Oklahoma Education Coalition, the average teacher pay in Oklahoma falls below the regional average and is less than the average teacher pay in Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, and New Mexico. Local and national news outlets report on talented Oklahoma teachers leaving Oklahoma to teach in surrounding states. Budget shortfalls force the elimination of hundreds of teacher positions across the state. School districts lack qualified teachers to fill all the remaining positions they have. Emergency-qualified teachers are at or exceed record levels for the state.
Miss Fieselmann proved to me many years ago that a teacher can make all the difference in the world to a kid. As an adult, I also know that to fill this important role in a kid’s life, a teacher needs adequate funding and resources. It is time for Oklahoma to put kids first and recommit to adequately funding schools to assure the best and most promising teachers and outcomes for our children’s futures.