NORMAN — A new study on people holding Oklahoma teaching certificates but not teaching in the state shows low pay and classroom management were the biggest reasons people chose not to teach in Oklahoma.
Local educators and teacher advocates said this wasn’t surprising.
“It just affirms in another way what we’ve been saying for the past few years,” Norman Public Schools Superintendent Nick Migliorino said. “A lot of it is around funding in general, and pay is a huge part of that.”
Migliorino said NPS would have received about $6 million more in funding if education funding had not decreased since 2008. He also said there has not been a statewide teacher pay increase for 10 years.
“They want to support their families, they want to make as much money as they can,” Migliorino said. “Why wouldn’t you do basically the exact same job somewhere else for better pay?”
Of those surveyed by the State Department of Education, 12 percent had never taught in Oklahoma, though they received their certification in the state, while 20 percent had taught in Oklahoma for over 15 years. The rest of the respondents taught in Oklahoma for some period of time.
About 90 percent listed low pay as the biggest factor in their decision to leave the field, but in an open-ended question, only 34 percent listed better pay or a better opportunity as the reason they left teaching.
Of those who responded, 19 percent had taught in another state, while 77 percent left teaching.
“Pay does enter into that, but the most important thing is the lack of respect. It is really hard for them,” Professional Oklahoma Educators Executive Director Ginger Tinney said.
According to the study, pay is an important factor, no matter how much experience a teacher has, but the less experience they have in an Oklahoma classroom, the more likely pay was the main reason for leaving the field.
Tinney said, traditionally, teaching was seen as a family’s “secondary income,” with a larger “breadwinner” salary coming from the other adult. That doesn’t mean single parents did not teach or teachers always made a lower income than their spouses, but Tinney said this idea about what educators should make has hurt teachers.
“Either way, you are going to lose people, but you are definitely going to lose those heads of households first because they can’t survive,” Tinney said. “They did not expect to get rich, but they did expect to be able to feed family and pay their bills. That is not happening. In order for someone who is the head of the household to teach, they have to hold a second job.”
Tinney and Migliorino said the lack of public education funding impacts more than just teacher pay. Both said classroom management, another main issue certified teachers outside the profession mentioned, is affected by funding.
“You understand why. Because if they are doing the job of two people,” Tinney said. “Even in Norman, the classrooms are crowded. We need to get serious about class size.”
Tinney said in any work environment, the more people are put in one room working, the louder, warmer and more stressful the room becomes. This discomfort and inability to focus makes it harder for teachers to maintain control, and it makes it harder for students to focus.
Migliorino said he believes NPS has worked hard to address overcrowded classes, but the number of students in each classroom has “crept up.”
“That is a huge burden on teachers,” Migliorino said.
Classroom management becomes more of an issue when emergency certified teachers come into a district, which is directly related to low teacher pay, Migliorino said.
This year, NPS has 35 emergency certified teachers. A few years ago, only 31 emergency certified teachers were in the entire state.
“It is not an innate ability to be able to manage a classroom and teach lessons day in and day out,” Migliorino said.
Tinney agreed. She said teachers have to have excellent communication and leadership skills. They have to maintain overall class discipline while diagnosing the educational needs of each student, and knowing the best method to teach each student while still giving lessons and guidance to the entire classroom.
“There is true giftedness in a teacher that can maintain discipline in a class of 30 students,” Tinney said. “Teaching is much like medicine. It is very specific, yet all-encompassing.”
Migliorino said when NPS or any public school district brings emergency certified teachers into the classroom, providing that training falls to the district. This is an added, yet often unnoticed, cost — both in money and time — taken on by each school system.
He said it is frustrating for emergency certified teachers to catch up with four years of education training while actively managing their own lessons and classrooms every week.
“It keeps coming back around to funding,” Migliorino said.