– By Sarah Kennedy –
As I contemplate writing about the budget cuts hitting education yet again, I can’t help thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech. Like King, I have many dreams for a near, but much better, future. Instead of focusing on racial harmony, I dream of a state where education for all truly holds value in the community. I have many dreams for the children and educators of Oklahoma.
I dream that every student in every desk has a belly full of healthy food to start and to carry them through the day. I see students walking into bright cafeterias where they sit joking with their friends while scarfing down fresh fruit, eggs scrambled with fresh veggies and herbs, hot oatmeal with berries, and milk. I see lunches with fresh salads, grilled fish and chicken, and whole fruits. I don’t see any students eating Hot Cheetos from the vending machine for breakfast or tossing back a package of Pop Tarts before first hour, and then crashing by third hour.
I dream of gym classes, activity periods, and athletics teams that don’t have to spend valuable practice time fundraising for their uniforms for the season. I hear choirs singing, violins playing, and guitars strumming in my dream hallways. I see pottery spinning, canvases painted, and photography edited in my dream classes.
I dream that students have laptops for research, communication, and creation…that students come out of school with knowledge of how to operate a computer (not just a smart phone). I want my students to be able to fix my computer when it breaks, dang it!
I dream that students get instruction from engaging teachers in all of their classes. I want them to use manipulatives in math, to Skype with real authors in English, and to dissect creatures in biology. Classrooms should be active places where creation is happening all the time. There should be REAL WORK going on: things moving around, papers being written, and discussions being held. With staffing at current levels, the student load is around 175 students per teacher at the high school where I teach. This equates to about 1.7 minutes per student each day. In these 1.7 minutes, teachers are expected to tailor quality instruction to that student, assess if the student has gotten the information, and formulate an individual plan for instructing the student. This is a tall order. As a parent, I want my daughters to get more than 1.7 minutes per day with their teachers. They deserve it, and I believe that my students do too.
I dream that schools are a beautiful place to work. I learned in college about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Basically, if your more primitive needs like food, shelter, and safety aren’t being met, then you don’t have a chance at learning anything new or using the higher-level thinking parts of your brain. The same goes at school. If you are sitting in a rusty metal chair with a hard seat at a table with 20 layers of graffiti and worrying about when to use the bathroom that has no lockable stalls, then you are not focused on learning tasks. School should look like an ultra clean lounge and should smell like lavender and mint. It should not be crumbling and smelling of mildew; it should not have questionable mold growing in the heating vents.
As teachers, we hear talk that crushes these dreams every day. We hear that managers at Chipotle make higher salaries than we do. We hear that teachers in Texas make $10,000 more per year than we do. We hear that our state funds our schools at the lowest (or second-to-lowest) levels in the country. Yet, we still dream. We still carry on each day, trying to make the best out of what we are given. My dreams certainly cost money, but I think that, like Dr. King’s dreams, they are worth paying for and worth fighting for. I hope that Oklahoma taxpayers join me in my dream of making school what it should be, not what is easy or inexpensive.