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Oklahoma facing teacher shortage as new school year begins

An empty school classroom. (KTUL)
An empty school classroom. (KTUL)
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As the school year begins with new clothes, new backpacks, and new schedules, there is still something missing all over Oklahoma -- teachers.

"People are not beating down the door to do this job," said Shawna Mott-Wright with the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association.

She spends her days advocating for the ones willing to educate Oklahoma's future, but she says Oklahoma's low pay and the pandemic high risk have her phone ringing.

"'I can't do that. My child has this' or 'I take care of my elderly mother,'" said Mott-Wright. "'I can't do it. I am afraid.'"

Once again, the state of Oklahoma is approving emergency certified teachers with 1,100 approved so far, and there could be more to come as the delta variant spreads.

"We thought it would be a little more normal, and we don’t know what to expect now," said State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.

Hofmeister says she expects more requests for emergency certifications as the schools hire more professionals to help with remediation from the pandemic.

"We need lots of teachers; kindergarten, Pre-K, and first grade this year," said Hofmeister.

Say says parents kept those children home last year, but as they return, she believes schools will need teachers, even substitutes, like last year.

"Some schools had to close because they did not have enough substitutes to be able to fill all the needs," said Hofmeister. "Teachers were exposed and removed from classrooms."

It's those potential dangers that have some thinking twice about the career they love. It's the pay and working conditions some believe are discouraging college students to major in education.

It's the same message to lawmakers.

"'R E S P E C T, find out what it means to me.' Please find out. We have been telling them. They are just not listening," said Mott-Wright.

It's a problem that adds up to a shortage in the classroom.

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