Editors note: This is part of an occasional series chronicling one teacher’s experience as Oklahoma educators fight for better funding.
The Monday after the Oklahoma Education Association called off the state’s teacher walkout, Anthony Cherry was back in the classroom.
But there were no students there that day.
“We had a meeting that morning, and we discussed what had happened,” Cherry, an AP History teacher at Booker T. Washington, said. “We gave some updates about how we’re sending delegations to the Capitol even though we’re back in the classroom.
“And we talked about how easy it can be to fall into negativity and division.”
Cherry went to the state Capitol six times during the two-week walkout, and said that during his time there he sensed support growing, not waning, for teachers who were advocating for better school funding.
So he was disappointed when it ended and teachers fell short of their goals.
“I’m trying to stay positive,” Cherry said, sitting at a table in Booker T. Washington High School’s cafeteria. “One of the strategies I’m sure the Legislature is working on is divide and conquer. Not just for educators but for the public, to turn the public against us.”
Cherry said he had a “mixed bag of feelings” as he headed back to the classroom on Tuesday. He was excited to see his students again, and they were excited to see him. Cherry mostly teaches seniors, and many of them were wondering how long the walkout would continue — the longer the walkout went, the longer it would be before their last day of class.
So the week has been a mixture of emotions.
“We were in the spotlight, the national spotlight,” Cherry said of the walkout. He was featured in a lengthy mini-documentary done by Newsy. “It was awesome. I would have liked for it to have continued.”
But it’s not over. Sure, there aren’t thousands of teachers at the state Capitol, but that doesn’t mean their voices aren’t still being heard.
“What we’re doing now is we’re really going to start to support candidates who support education platforms,” Cherry said. “This is not over. Even though we’re not at the Capitol, it’s not over.”
Cherry said he saw momentum grow over the two-week walkout.
Enthusiasm at the state Capitol for the walkout never waned, he said, in part because of comments by Gov. Mary Fallin and several legislators that served to inspire teachers to continue fighting.
Fallin, who after announcing teachers would be receiving a raise prior to the walkout beginning said she hoped teachers would come to the state Capitol, say thank you, then return to the classroom, compared educators asking for funding to “teenagers” pleading for a nicer car.
Many other legislators drew the ire of teachers and the public for statements they made during the walkout, as well.
“The first day at the Captiol was like, everyone was outside chanting, holding signs. It wasn’t exactly organized, it was just people there, kind of getting used to the scene,” Cherry said of the walkout. “But after that first day, you saw people moving inside. People demanding to talk to their legislators. We really did put some pressure on people to do something better for Oklahoma.
“It would be easy to be negative. I’m trying to stay positive. We really did have an effect.”
So what’s the next step? The school year ends in about a month, then there’s the long summer break before the next school year begins. Lawmakers signaled early on they had little enthusiasm for solving the entire school funding issue in one year. How can teachers keep momentum going to remind lawmakers next year that there’s still work to be done.
“In November we’re going to elect some people who care about education,” Cherry said. “We’re going to stay informed and stay unified. And we’re going to find as many allies as we can. We’re not going to let this story die, or let this movement die.”