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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

House Panel Says to OK NBTC teachers, "Get out of the classroom!"

An Oklahoma House of Representatives sub-committee voted 9-2 against requiring the state to pay the $5000 annual stipend for Oklahoma teachers who have met the requirements for National Board teacher certification.

Basically, what the members of the panel said to Oklahoma classroom teachers is, "Get out of the classroom if you want to significantly increase your salaries."  Instead, these teachers will earn basically the same pay that a teacher who has not gone through the rigorous certification process makes.

I have attempted the National Board for Teacher Certification program, twice. Failed both times.  It's very demanding. I don't think I work as hard for it as I did my English M.A., certainly not during the first year's process. I attended classes at Southeastern Oklahoma State University for a week. Then I spent the rest of the year gathering material for my portfolio. This included two video taped classroom teaching sessions.  I wrote 4 different essays totalling more than 60 pages, gathered artifacts and endorsements, and took a two hour exam and still came up short.  I very much admire those who have successfully completed the process.

In Oklahoma, there are around 3000 NBTC teacher, around 115 in the Oklahoma Public School District alone.  Several years ago the legislature created an incentive for those in the program: successfully complete it, and you will received a $5000 stipend each year for the next 10 years.

The idea behind this comes from an odd reality in education: for a teacher to make significant money in education, she has to leave the classroom and get into administration or consulting.  After a while, we get to the top of our pay ladder and after that, we get cost of living raise, if we are lucky.  The next step usually means becoming an assistant principal or working at the district or state office, away from the kids we teach who are the reason we became teachers.

The stipend for NBTC teachers was designed to help correct that somewhat. It also provided pay for performance, a phrase dearly loved by those who want teachers to earn their salary increases for something other than longevity.  Now all those noble plans are in jeopardy.

Last year, the Oklahoma State Department of Education decided there was not enough money to pay the full $5000 stipend and voted instead to give NBTC teachers $3900.  Whether this amount will rise or fall or even be there at all is uncertain.  The bill the House panel was considering not only contained a requirement to pay the stipend, it also contained scholarships to help pay for the fees associated with being accepted into the program, which costs a minimum of $2500 to go through Oklahoma's version of the preparation process.

There is hope that the legislation will continue to see the merits of having such a large number of NBTC teachers.  I hope so because we know that the most important figure in a child's education is her teacher.

We need the best in the classroom, not in some office.

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