As thousands of teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky protested their pay and classroom funding, a former Oklahoma Teacher of the Year reflects on why he left Oklahoma for a higher paying job in North Texas.
Shawn Sheehan, the 2016 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, said his family couldn’t afford to stay in Oklahoma and raise their now 17 month old daughter.
“We’re going to stop hoping and praying that Oklahoma will do the right thing for its educators and for its citizens,” said Sheehan. “We took matters into our own hands and we made the move south.”
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Sheehan and his wife, Kaysi, who is also a teacher say their household income increased by around $40,000 after taking jobs in Lewisville I.S.D. in 2017. Now, finishing out their first school year in Lewisville, the couple says it’s tough to see their fellow educators back in Oklahoma struggling.
“I hope the public knows that Oklahoma educators aren’t starting with a strike. This isn’t step one. Not by a long shot. This is step one thousand and one,” said Sheehan.
“There would be days in Oklahoma when I was up standing in front of the kids and all I was really thinking was do I have enough money in my bank account to get groceries after school today before we get paid again?” said Kaysi Sheehan. “Teachers can’t teach if their basic needs aren’t being met.”
Kaysi also says she went from teaching 172 students a semester to 90. With smaller class sizes, the high school English teacher says she can spend more time with each student. Job satisfaction, along with pay, was a factor for the couple.
“We both have our master’s degrees and we didn’t expect it would be this hard,” said Shawn Sheehan.
The couple says the move to Texas from Norman I.S.D was a last resort. They say they’d joined fellow teachers in rallies, advocated for one penny sale tax increase to fund schools and Shawn Sheehan even ran for office.
The National Education Association ranks Oklahoma near the bottom in teacher pay and spending per student. In a 2017 estimate, Oklahoma ranked 49th in pay out of 51 (50 states plus Washington D.C.). Texas ranked 27th in teacher pay.
Sheehan was open about his decision to leave for Texas, penning blogs that weighed the pros and cons. He’s already spelled out the difference in his take home pay and factored in cost of living in Texas. By his family’s calculations, they still come out on top in Texas.
But, there are challenges ahead even with the pay raise in North Texas. The Sheehans are currently renting a townhouse in Lewisville and are struggling to find a house they can afford to buy near work.
They say Texas lawmakers should pay attention to Oklahoma’s public education troubles and consider how Texas wants to prioritize school funding in the future.
“What’s best for kids is creating a school environment that’s safe and has all the resources that it needs,” said Sheehan. “It’s full of educators who are paid appropriately and love their jobs and are highly qualified to do their job.”
“It’s time that the country, as a whole, decides that we’re going to respect teachers in this way and pay them appropriately.”