Cherokee teachers speak out on walkout
Striking teachers, some of whom are Cherokee Nation citizens, rally on April 4 with signs in Tahlequah as part of a teacher walkout across Oklahoma in protest of poor funding for public education. ROGER GRAHAM/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – While many area teachers joined a statewide walkout on April 2 headed to rallies at the state capital in Oklahoma City, others, including teachers who are Cherokee Nation citizens, held hometown rallies to build local support for better public education funding.
Contingencies of teachers inside the CN were seen rallying from Bartlesville to Sallisaw. CN citizen and fourth grade Grand View teacher Jeanetta Glory was one teacher who braved the rain to rally in Cherokee County.
“There are about 10 teachers out here, and we are standing for our students and to raise funding at the state capital. We feel very positive in the way things are going right now. There’s a lot of discussions going on, but we have been encouraged to keep this going,” Glory said.
Glory said one reason the teachers walked out is because enrollment in public schools has increased by more than 40,000 students while funding has decreased by $200 million.
“Oklahoma is the worst in the nation for public education cuts, by 28 percent since 2008,” she said.
In Adair County the same solidarity was visible as teachers and staff from Stilwell, Dahlonegah, Zion and Maryetta schools gathered, held signs and waved to supporters who honked their car horns. CN citizen and kindergarten teacher Paula Unger was among them. She said she’s seen the Oklahoma education issue from different sides, including being raised by a Cherokee teacher.
“I’ve been teaching for 25 years, and I am Cherokee. I’ve spent the last three days at the capital in Oklahoma City, leaving around 7 in the morning and returning around 9 p.m. at night. It’s been quite a historical experience,” Unger said. “In the early (19)90s, my mother, who’s a retired educator who taught for 30-some years, was in on the rally that happened then. This time it’s been so encouraging to see the support that we’ve received from numerous people, even out of state people. A man visiting from New York ordered 500 pizzas for us.”
Unger added that teachers on spring break from other states came to Oklahoma to support them, as well as workers from other professions.
“The steel workers who are working on the outside of the building at the Capitol didn’t work in support of the teachers. They wouldn’t cross the protest lines,” she said.
Unger said other supporters included the custodial and maintenance people inside the Capitol.
“Even the people who cook in the Capitol told us ‘this is awesome. We’ve never seen so many people inside the Capitol. Keep it going,’” Unger said.
Rallying teachers and public school employees said they were hopeful they would triumph. “I’m a speech pathologist in Tahlequah Public Schools, and I’m a parent of two kids,” CN citizen Robyn Rowland said. “I have an investment here not only for my students but for my own kiddos’ future.”