Editorial: Executive order avoids bigger issue at all cost

It is no question that schools across the state are struggling with teacher shortages due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19, spreading more quickly than the resources at educational institutions can address it. Children under 5 years old do not yet qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine, and children are still being hospitalized for COVID-19. 

What is Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s main priority concerning the issue? Keeping an option for students to learn in-person.

In a press conference on Jan. 18, Gov. Stitt issued Executive Order 2022-01, which authorizes state agencies to allow employees to substitute teach without losing employment, pay or benefits.

“I’ve said from the beginning that our students deserve an in-person education and our schools need to stay open. The state has a responsibility to do what we can to help make that happen, which is why I have signed this executive order to help schools suffering from staffing shortages,” Stitt said. “I appreciate schools and teachers that are doing everything they can to provide in-person learning for their students, as well as the business community for stepping up.”

Secretary of Education Ryan Walters said at the conference, “It is vital Oklahoma schools stay open for our students and our teachers need support to make that happen. We heard schools are struggling with staffing, so I want to thank Governor Stitt and Chad Warmington for stepping up with an innovative solution and partnership to help our schools support their students and families during this time.”

I am a registered, qualified substitute teacher in the state of Oklahoma. In order to become one, I had to submit all of the appropriate paperwork, as well as pay out-of-pocket for a background check. It was not until I was given the green light that I could walk into a school and substitute teach. I can recall that the background check took around 10-14 days to complete and finalize.

Does this mean that a state employee can apply and complete all of the required tasks in one day and know the next day that they are good to go? A complete background check can be completed expeditiously? Any state employee can raise their hand and say “I volunteer as tribute” and attempt to control a room full of kids and call it “quality education?” 

I am all for in-person learning. I remember the early days of the pandemic begging and pleading for classes to return in-person. I did not do well at all with virtual learning. It was a tough mental, emotional and academic time for me, as well as I can imagine thousands of other students. I understand thinking about students’ mental health and prioritizing academic success through learning in-person. 

However, at what point do we say, “This is insane?” First hand, I can say that substitute teachers do not actually teach. Our job is to keep an eye on the students and make sure they do not destroy the classroom until their teacher returns. We provide them with the worksheets that their teachers leave for them to work on, which most of the time consists of material that was covered and taught before they unexpectedly had to leave their classrooms.

Does watching all 18 seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy” make me qualified to volunteer to be a doctor in hospitals that are short staffed as well? Or does binge watching “Judge Judy” or “Law & Order” give me the opportunity to volunteer to be a lawyer? 

That is exactly what is happening with this executive order.

If being a teacher was easy, wouldn’t this executive order already exist? It wouldn’t make sense for one to have a degree, student teaching experience, and actually have a desire to teach, not monitor.

I am disappointed that either Gov. Stitt or Sec. Walters believe that anybody can become a teacher. No one can replace the hard work of teachers, especially in a state where there is a shortage of teachers anyway. 

They say, “We understand that we cannot replace our teachers.” If that were true, they’d make an exception for schools to temporarily go virtual for their teachers. By doing so, the schools could continue to provide quality education through the best quality delivery they can from those who actually know what they are doing. 

I am nothing compared to a teacher who knows the material, knows their students, and knows how to provide the best education possible. Teachers know this too, and they will remember this when Stitt runs for re-election in June.

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