OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma teacher crisis continues to worsen, according to some teacher unions and professional organizations.

The Oklahoma Education Association is worried about the near 4,000 record number of emergency teacher certificates being issued compared to the more than 30,000 certified teachers that are available to teach.

“States across our nation are experiencing teacher shortage. Oklahoma’s experienced it the longest,” said OEA President Katherine Bishop.

Executive Director of Professional Oklahoma Educators Ginger Tinney is also voicing her concern.

“If you’re a superintendent right now, it’s tough,” she said of the hiring struggle for teachers. “They’re between a rock and a hard place and that is why you see so many teacher vacancies right now.”

Bishop shared that there are more than 30,000 fully certified teachers in the state that could be teaching, yet the number of emergency certified ones continues to rise. 

The Oklahoma State Department of Education reports 3,914 emergency certifications were issued in the 2021-2022 school year. That was a record. In 2019-2020, 3,320 were issued. In 2017-2018, 1,851 were issued, and back in 2011-2012, only 32.

Bishop said the reason for the teaching crisis is clear.

“We know right now in our state, competitive pay is probably the number one reason why educators are not staying in the classroom or they’re not entering the classroom,” she explained. “We know we have over a thousand vacancies. We’re in a chronic teacher shortage and we have to do better. ”

Tinney adds that the public reputation of teachers is also a factor.

 “The negativity that has come out from the pandemic and all the politics has gotten into some of the classrooms,” she said. “You’ve got to hold up your teachers. You’ve got to appreciate them. We need to love our teachers, we need to raise their pay, and we need to be realistic about the workload.”

Bishop voiced a similar opinion, saying, “A large amount is on just the respect of professional educators. Right now, the narrative out there is so disingenuous. There’s a lot of political rhetoric going on right now about teachers indoctrinating students. We know we have teachers leaving the classroom every day because of lack of pay, lack of respect and wanting to do the job they know they love in their heart. But right now, that’s not where they’re going to be.”

She’s putting forth a solution.

“The biggest question is to our state leaders, what are they going to do?  What are they going to do to invest? What are we going to do to attract people into our profession and help keep them in the profession?” she asked before giving some advice to the public. “We need to get elected officials into office that believe in our public schools, that the 700,000 students that are sitting in desks today have the opportunity to be afforded a great public education. It starts with making your voice heard at the polls. Go vote. That’s the best thing you can do right now.”

In September, KFOR asked Governor Kevin Stitt’s Office about teacher pay and spokeswoman Carly Atchison sent us the following statement:

“From his first year in office when he worked with the Legislature to deliver a $1,200 pay raise, to this year’s proposal to pay those in the classroom six figure salaries, Governor Stitt has been a tireless advocate for getting Oklahoma teachers to be the highest paid in the region and looks forward to continuing that effort with the next state superintendent.”

According to the National Education Association, the average teacher salary in Oklahoma is $54,762.