Districts are stepping up recruitment and trying to show there are reasons to live in Oklahoma despite the low pay.
Tulsa and Oklahoma City public schools are recruiting in regions that have too many teachers or a higher cost of living, such as New England.
The districts also are recruiting in Spain for teachers who can speak both English and Spanish so the schools can meet the needs of growing numbers of Hispanic students whose primary language isn’t English. Tulsa offered 12 jobs and Oklahoma City offered 16 jobs to those candidates for next school year.
Some districts are offering up to $2,000 signing bonuses for hard-to-fill positions. Oklahoma City offers a $500 retention bonus to keep experienced teachers.
Bianca Rose, who handles recruitment for Oklahoma City Public Schools, said she tries to highlight the state’s economic growth, the low cost of living and the region’s cultural attractions as reasons to make the move.
One of the biggest draws, especially in Spain, has been the Oklahoma Thunder professional basketball team.
“Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been very helpful to our recruitment efforts,” Rose said of the team’s star players.
The district, which is in the middle of its biggest recruitment push ever, hired 58 teachers last week.
An Oklahoma State Department of Education study released in January recommended several changes to address the teacher shortage.
Among them are boosting compensation, providing more professional training and support for teachers; easing certification requirements to better match those of surrounding states; and allowing teachers to advance their careers, such as through mentoring, without having to go into administration.
The department plans to release more details on the scope of the shortage this summer.
Younger teachers say something needs to change to keep the career viable.
Kevin Pearson grew up wanting to be a music teacher. Now, six years into his career at Tulsa Public Schools, the Sand Springs native questions whether he can keep his dream job.
He makes $34,900 a year and also plays piano during church services each Sunday for extra cash. That’s better than having to wait tables or manage a parking lot right after working in a classroom, he said.
Pearson said he knows several early-career teachers who have to moonlight to make ends meet.
“It’s like a big ol’ slap in the face,” Pearson said of teacher pay. “I hope to stay and make a future in the state of Oklahoma. I do not feel like people appreciate what we do.”
Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that produces in-depth and investigative content on a range of public-policy issues in the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to www.oklahomwatch.org.