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Tulsa World 

Tulsa administrators fill teacher vacancies for third year


September 2, 2018

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — At least one fifth-grade class at Celia Clinton Elementary School had two teachers for the first day of school. One, Robin Lemmons, a 30-year veteran of teaching who just returned to the profession, will be their teacher for all of the school year.

The other, LeeAnne Pepper, is there because Lemmons was hired late in the summer and all the paperwork hasn't been processed. So, legally, she's the teacher at the moment. Pepper is among the more than a dozen TPS administrators working as teachers across the city because for the third straight year, the state's second-largest district didn't fill all of its vacancies in time for school. Last year, Superintendent Deborah Gist was among those who taught temporarily.

Pepper was once an elementary school teacher. She became an administrator at TPS — academic coordinator for elementary mathematics — about three years ago. This is her second year returning to the classroom for the start of school, something that she relishes but she understands is a symptom of a larger issue.

"It continues to highlight the situation that we are in. When it's a struggle just to get a teacher in a classroom," said Pepper. "When you're little and you go to school, you don't think about all the other parts of teaching that are happening. What happens in front of students is such a small part of it. And the students now are very different needs than they were 20 years ago."

The Oklahoma teaching shortage is showing no signs of slowing down despite the pay raise that just took effect for teachers, the Tulsa World reported. The state is on pace to have a record amount of emergency-certified teachers again this year. Districts recently told the Tulsa World that they're still worried about vacancies. And the World reported that there are about 500 vacancies statewide.

TPS had three vacancies as of Aug. 22, said Emma Garret Nelson, District spokeswoman. TPS had more than 500 teachers exit the district after last year and has seen about 50 percent of its teaching staff leave over the past three years. It will potentially have 276 emergency-certified teachers this year, up about 100 from a year ago.

Lemmons is not a novice teacher. She's a 30-year veteran attracted by the pay raise and convinced to join TPS by a friend who worked at Celia Clinton and raved about the school.

She was hired in August, and noted that the school was still searching for a special-education teacher as she interviewed.

Lemmons, like Pepper, feels the situation in her classroom and the need for administrators across the district is a symptom of what's unfolding in Oklahoma education.

"Even with the raise, the future of education in Oklahoma is still so unknown. We are in a crisis and so there are positions being filled last minute, and still. It speaks of the teacher shortage," said Lemmons. "They're having to fill holes and she's (Pepper) having to be here because I was hired so late."


Information from: Tulsa World,



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