Sequoyah High School missing key educators

01/12/2020 01:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah is facing a shortfall of math and science teachers. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – Several months into the academic year, Sequoyah High School is still down permanent math and science teachers, a dilemma partly blamed on a lack of new educators.

“Everybody’s fighting over the same product,” Superintendent Leroy Qualls said. “I don’t see it any better next year. The Legislature did make a big, progressive move a couple of years ago in giving a teacher pay raise. However, it takes four years to complete a teacher program, at least four years. It’s just the teachers have had such a bad rap the last ‘X’ number of years. It’s been all over the news that they don’t get paid as other states do, so that’s a large thing to overcome.”

Before the start of the 2019-20 year, incoming math and science teachers backed out of teaching at SHS.

“Those are obviously difficult positions to fill,” Principal Jolyn Choate said. “I’m good, I feel, in every other department. But there is definitely still a teacher shortage. I recognize the state is trying to do something about that as far as salary raises are concerned.”

To help fill the gap, Choate is teaching mathematics.

“Math and science (teachers), we need them,” Education Services Executive Director Ron Etheridge told tribal councilors. “We were in on a couple, and we didn’t get to them fast enough.”

Choate said six math education students graduated from Northeastern State University in May. “When I went in April to the NSU teacher fair … two of them didn’t even show up because they already had jobs.”

Perceived low teacher pay could also play a role in the lack of teachers in the state, Choate said.

“You know, $30,000 a year, although it doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s not too bad, and a first-year teacher earns more than that,” she said. “For Oklahoma, it’s a very good career to go into. They don’t necessarily think in terms of this, but it’s an excellent career to go into if you want to have kids and be able to spend time with them. Teachers need the summer time to rejuvenate because so much of their energy and mental capacity is expended during the school year on so many different levels.”

“We are actively recruiting a math teacher at Sequoyah High School and expect to have that position in place in the coming weeks for our students,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “This is a reflection of a larger national shortage for math and science teachers which is why the Cherokee Nation actively promotes careers in the STEM field through education scholarships and career training programs, as well as teaching grants that promote science, technology, engineering and math.”
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