In 2020, former McAlester Public Schools teacher Ryan Walters was appointed as the youngest Secretary of Education in Oklahoma’s history. Earlier this month, with schools ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and the highly infectious omicron variant, Gov, Kevin Stitt announced the Guest Educator Program. It simplified the ability for schools facing COVID-19 related teacher shortages to bring in substitute teachers from the outside, either from state agencies or from private businesses.

The plan was met with mixed reactions. While many parents are thankful their kids are able to stay in the classroom, some are worried about the quality of education these “guest educators” can provide on such short notice. And many teachers, already dealing with the effects of risking COVID-19 exposure in the classroom, have said the “guest educator” program made them feel devalued and that it makes it seem like anyone can just step into a classroom and teach.

On today’s Listen Frontier podcast, I talk with Walters about the program, about how it will be judged as a success or failure, his relationship with teachers across the state, and how he weighs his responsibility to both teachers and students.

This is Listen Frontier, a podcast exploring the investigative journalism of the Frontier and featuring conversations with those on the frontlines of Oklahoma’s most important stories. Listen to us Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher. 

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