I was a youth minister for 10 years before I became a public school educator.
During that decade, I don’t recall ever asking for a raise or an increase in the youth budget that I was responsible for. The truth is that I never thought I should ask for more than church leadership thought I should get.
I had heard the phrase “pay for performance” bantered around, so it made sense to me that I would possibly receive more compensation if there were more youth that attended our church.
The problem with that concept is that that I worked my tail off for whoever was there. If it was 5 students or 50 students, I gave them my all.
However, I can’t put all of the blame on church leadership because it was my own fault for not asking for more.
I believed in what I did with every fiber of my being. When you believe in something, you give it your all to accomplish whatever your goal is – full-steam ahead!
Fast forward almost 20 years to 2018. I have now been a public educator in the state of Oklahoma for 10 years.
I admit that I was naÃ¯ve about what I was getting myself into; I didn’t know what to expect.
When I left the church for public education, I found an environment of high-stakes testing, colleagues and administrators stressed to their breaking points, and district benchmark tests being emphasized above all else because that is what the state required.
The state now viewed children as simply a test score against which the entire school and all educators within were judged – without taking into account all the environmental factors with which these children were dealing.
The impression was that the state cared more about what they scored on the state-mandated tests as opposed to who they are as human beings.
As a former minister, but also just as a compassionate human being, this disturbed me to my core.
When I reached my second or third year of teaching, I began to hear more and more about cuts to the education budget.
I didn’t focus much on it at the time because I was there to do a job and I was going to do it.
This is my mission, some would say my calling, and I feel compelled to fulfill it. This is the same mindset that I had when I did church work.
When you’re willing to work for very little, the powers that be will let you. When you don’t ask for what you need to properly do your job or accomplish the tasks at hand, you do have some responsibility for it when you don’t receive it.
I see that now after 20 years of working in the church and in public education.
The problem in this situation is that we have asked for it. We have asked numerous times in numerous ways and have been repeatedly told, “No.”
The people that have the ability to aid the efforts of those of us who believe we are not just doing a job but serving and shaping the children in our state will happily let us work for as little as we’re willing to work for and with as few resources as possible.
We all want our state to continue on an upward path to attract more businesses and encourage growth.
With that in mind, why would a business want to move their company and executives to Oklahoma if their children will not have textbooks in the classroom or arts programs or STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities or advanced placement classes because there is no funding available?
Oklahoma leads the nation in cuts to education; that is not a very attractive incentive.
There are more kids that attend Oklahoma schools now than when I began teaching nearly 10 years ago.
Since that time, educators have been asked to meet the demands of state testing (which change like the shifting sand), manage larger class sizes, do more with less and often pay for the resources we need for our classrooms out of our meager paychecks.
Common sense tells you that when there are more students entering Oklahoma schools, you must find ways to increase the budget to meet their needs.
Oklahoma’s legislature has an extremely difficult job, and we teachers understand that.
We have been to the Capitol, we’ve scheduled meetings with our representatives and senators, we’ve rallied, we’ve asked for more funding for public education, and we’ve been patient.
They have told us time and time again that their hands are tied, that there is nothing they can do.
I do not believe this; I believe they can do something. I believe they must do something.
With the cost of living continuing to increase and the growing number of children entering our schools, Oklahoma’s children deserve more than what we have settled for. They deserve our best.
We teachers have been giving them our best for years, despite all the odds being stacked against us. It’s time for the legislature to do the same.
Brad Moore is a public school teacher in Oklahoma. He is a member of NorthHaven Church in Norman and a former youth minister at Spring Creek Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series on public education. Previous articles in the series are:
It’s Time for Christians to Stand Up for Public Schools by Anika T. Whitfield
Christians for Public Education by Mitch Randall
4 Ways Your Church Can Support Public Education by Michael Ruffin
Ministering in Our Schools Prepares Kids for Future by Suzii Paynter
Right Side of History: Removing Barriers to Education by Colin Harris
Why Privatizing Public Schools Threatens Education by Diane Ravitch
Pastors’ Group Supports Strong Education for All Kids by Charles Foster Johnson