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Teacher Of The Year In Oklahoma Moves To Texas For The Money

Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma's 2016 Teacher of the Year, sits in his classroom one last time before moving to Texas for better pay.
Emily Wendler
Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma's 2016 Teacher of the Year, sits in his classroom one last time before moving to Texas for better pay.

About exactly a year ago we brought you the story of Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma's 2016 Teacher of the Year.

At the time, he and about 40 other educators were running for office in the state, wanting to make a change because, as Sheehan puts it, lawmakers weren't prioritizing education. Funding for schools in the state has been cut tremendously over the past decade and teachers in Oklahoma are some of the lowest paid in the country.

"And unfortunately, it didn't go the way that we had wanted," he says.

Sheehan, a math teacher, didn't win that race. In the end, only five of the 40 educators actually took office.

Despite, he still hung on to hope that legislators this session would come up with enough funding to give teachers a raise.

Then, "things went south pretty quickly," Sheehan says. He held his breath while lawmakers duked it out, but in the end, there was no additional money for public schools, or their teachers.

Now he says he just can't make ends meet anymore teaching in Norman, Okla.

So, he's leaving for Texas.

Over the past few years, thousands of public school teachers in Oklahoma, like Sheehan, have left the state for better pay and less stress (fewer classes, smaller classes, less instruction time). It's gotten so bad that the state department of education has had to issue emergency teacher certifications to replace teachers as quickly as possible.

Across the state, textbooks are out of date, electives have been eliminated, and support positions are being terminated left and right.

"It feels good because I know I'm doing the right thing for my family, but it also feels sad."

Sheehan and his wife are both public school teachers. Supporting just two people, he says they could make the money work. Together they brought in about $3,600 a month. "So, after all bills are paid, we're sitting on about $400-450 per month."

But in late 2016, they had a daughter.

"Sure, life can be done on $400, $450 a month, but I would challenge others out there to buy diapers, groceries and all the things that you need for a family of three on $400."

In Texas, he and his wife will see an increase of about $40,000 a year. "We're starting at numbers that we will never ever see in this state as educators."

Sheehan says that he did everything that he could think of to improve the situation. He ran for office, he started a non-profit, "and I'm hitting a wall," he says. "So, I'm not going to keep running in to that wall with my daughter in my hands... that's what I'm saying."

Jon Hazell, this year's teacher of the year, says he would ask Sheehan: If more teachers leave, who is going to teach Oklahoma's children?

"Who's going to mentor them? And who's going to bring them up in this climate that's really tough?"

Hazell believes you can't put a dollar amount on teaching children. It's a privilege that he's been doing for more than 30 years.

And Sheehan respects that idea, but disagrees. He says he feels called to teach, but he also wants to be paid like a professional.

Copyright 2020 KOSU. To see more, visit KOSU.

In graduate school at the University of Montana, Emily Wendler focused on Environmental Science and Natural Resource reporting with an emphasis on agriculture. About halfway through her Master’s program a professor introduced her to radio and she fell in love. She has since reported for KBGA, the University of Montana’s college radio station and Montana’s PBS Newsbrief. She was a finalist in a national in-depth radio reporting competition for an investigatory piece she produced on campus rape. She also produced in-depth reports on wind energy and local food for Montana Public Radio. She is very excited to be working in Oklahoma City, and you can hear her work on all things from education to agriculture right here on KOSU.
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