I put on my school counselor black suit. My black slacks I’ve worn for more than 7 years, a blue silky shirt, and a ruffled black jacket composed my “black suit.” I also wore sketcher black shoes because I knew I’d be walking around more than normal, and I didn’t want to be impeded by fashion. Navigating OKC traffic was rather successful. I drove a very strange route to avoid traffic jams, and was pleased by the number of Green Left Turn signals I was able to blaze through.
When I arrived at the Oklahoma Bar Center at 9:00 a.m., I saw a drum line with orange shirts that sounded just like the Norman High School Drum Line. My son, Harrison, played trombone with the NHS band from 2013-2017. But, the bus that was near them was from Glenpool. So, I thought. “That’s weird”. With the next percussive cadence, and spotting the red OU hat from a student I knew very well, I was ecstatic! I was so happy to visit with the moms, and other parents supporting the students. It was a great way to start the day.
I quickly arrived to the bottom of the Bar Center, and saw my teacher friends waiting for me there. Crying was off limits, so I instead explained what I knew (which wasn’t much) and settled in. After a brief welcome by lawmakers we attempted to pose for a group photo, and had to quickly rush through it, to get in line because traffic had been stop to for our Girl Attorney parade.
Within minutes I was walking with more than a hundred attorneys. Several brought their little babies. And this is a big deal. When I first had a child, I worried I would not be supported at work. That I wouldn’t be able to breast-feed my child. That I wouldn’t be taken seriously. I remember sitting in the floor in my home with my 1 1/2 year old playing with play dough and calculated how much money I was loosing. $125.00 an hour was my billable rate, and my child was an economic detriment. THIS MADE ME VERY MAD!
Who got in my brain and told me that my time with my child was worthless? What was it about America that caused me to feel that time with my child was “worthless”? These questions launched me into a quest to figure out what about America’s culture devalued our time with children.
One of the books I ran across was “Care and Equality” by Mona Harrington and Cornell West. It explained how America economically discriminates against anyone with care giving jobs. Pediatricians are the lowest paid of physicians. Daycare workers, nursing home workers, TEACHERS, etc, are paid the lowest. The authors argue that America expects caregiving to be performed for free. This is because of a variety of reasons which are addressed in the book. But these reasons impact women in very harsh ways. Teachers and Women Attorneys who are parents share the impact of this disparate treatment.
As I walked through the crowd, it was completely stunning and overwhelming to see the faces of thousands and thousands of TEACHERS. The most intelligent, brilliant, BRAVE, and loving professionals on the PLANET! You are warriors to preserve the hearts and minds for America’s brighter days. All shapes, sizes and color of TEACHERS who were telling me “Thank You.” I felt humiliated by their gratitude.
So, I yelled like a crazy woman, telling them how they made my achievement possible. “My favorite teacher was David Self, in Tipton Oklahoma!” “He taught me how to debate!” “I learned to read from Ms.Fennell in Plainview Texas!” “You taught me how to read. How to write. How to spell. How to be grammatically correct.” “Thank YOU!”
My mouth became dry, trying to yell my love and appreciation for teachers. When I saw a red OEA sticker, I shared how much OEA helped me as a school counselor. And how badly I wanted to improve the working conditions of teachers within Norman Public Schools as a member of the bargaining team.
By the time I wound my way to the Capitol, I felt dizzy with love! With determination! With commitment! to make sure that our sacrifice and pain experienced in this walk-out will permanently change the way we fund our classrooms. Permanently change the way lawmakers treat constituents.
I was able to watch the Norman High School Band take the stage and begin playing, as I wound my way to the entrance of the Capitol.
Once I arrived, I went straight to Senator Sparks office on the top of the 5th floor. It is a safe and happy place for teachers at the Capitol. His staff is friendly and welcoming, and we are able to charge our phones there. I was able to visit with his constituents and hear what concerns them.
Soon Senator Sparks came in, and I was able to lobby him for increased and permanent funding of textbooks. Since I was the Textbook Director for the State Department of Education in 1994-1996 and 2001-2002, I have a strong passion for making sure that the depletion of the textbook funds ends.
Next, I lobbied Emily Virgin to fund textbooks.
Soon, I found my way to check in with the OEA people. On the way it was lunch time, and hundreds of teachers just plopped themselves where-ever they were and enjoyed their lunch. I found several familiar faces and explained to them what I hoped would happen today, and how I hoped an agreement for the funding of textbooks would be reached.
While in the OEA meeting room, I visited with my daughter’s choir teacher, and co-member on the bargaining team (back when I was a teacher). She is also running for State Senate so we talked about all the details of running for office. (Our own professional development conference.) By the way, no other profession treats professional development as seriously as teachers. My teacher friends taught me the strength in learning from one another. So Reneé Jerden who is a candidate for SD 24, and I share several minutes discussing our campaigns and what we need to do to start knocking doors.
When I left the OEA meeting room, I ran into a kindergarten student, Alejandro, who gave me a bag of chocolate kisses. His teacher had helped him make them and pass them out. The card included in the gift bag was thanking me for advocating for schools. I was so relieved, and comforted by his childhood. His eagerness and affection gave me a lift in my spirit. I REALLY MISS TEACHING LITTLE KIDS.
I also spoke to several of the attorneys who had met with lawmakers. They had met with some from the majority party and said it “Didn’t go Well” They described the body language and the stubbornness they experience. They also met with members from the minority party of the house, and explained that the information they received was helpful, and respectful. I thought it was interesting that attorneys size up witnesses to determine their credibility. Teachers also size up students to evaluate their willingness to receive new information and pursue truth.
Both teachers and attorneys experienced the frustration of very stubborn and unhelpful lawmakers from the majority party.
Soon after lunch at 1:30 the Senate and House were in session so the crowd of teachers began to yell various chants. Many others listened to the proceedings in the chambers in the various offices in the Capitol and also online. The chanting was very loud. It was a profound reminder that teachers are watching and listening when each house is in session and want schools to be fully funded.
After gathering my things from the OEA room, I left the Capitol building. was seeking out people from Norman, Noble, Lexington and Slaughterville. I found the Truman Elementary tent. I was able to share with them what I hoped would happen with textbooks. We also talked about the impact women lawyers had. I’m continually shocked about how touched teachers are by my involvement as a woman lawyer. Teachers were so happy for me, so encouraging, so celebratory. I didn’t see any jealousy or envy in their words or expressions. I’ve often felt shy in letting other women know that I am attorney. I didn’t want them to think I thought I had achieved more than they had. I wanted to honor the sacrifice of every woman.
But as I walked through the crowds of teachers, wearing my black suit, I realized that teachers just want to see every mind soar and experience the fullness of a good education. Women with law degrees is proof that teachers’ work and commitment can change lives.