Nearly 40,000 Oklahoma teachers walked out of school on April 2 to strike for better wages and more classroom funding and to put pressure on local lawmakers to make these changes. Laurissa Kovacs is one of the many teachers who participated in the walkout and says that in the four years she's been an educator in the state, which reports the second lowest teacher salaries in the country, she's brought home less than $30,000 a year. She has watched many qualified teachers leave the state over their low salaries — among other reasons — and in turn, completely put the students' quality of education at risk.
To make the reason she's walking out on her students explicitly clear, she shared one powerful image: a cracked and broken blue plastic chair, or, as her students call it, the "cheek pincher."
"This is way too many students for one class," Laurissa said of her fourth-hour class with 32 students in it. "Especially art class. I've had to cut back on the fun, ambitious, and exciting projects literally because there isn't enough room on the table for 32 kids. I literally do not have enough chairs for 32 students."
Which is what brought her to share her photo of the blue chair to begin with.
This photo is something every one of my students is familiar with. This chair, or cheek-pincher, is what my students have to sit on. Most of the chairs in my room look like this. Once they get to this point it's only a matter of time before the bottom goes completely out. Today a student actually carried his chair with him to sharpen his pencil because he got in early enough to get a good chair. I've gotten a few new students and had to throw a bottom-less chair away so tomorrow I'm having to bring in a couple of folding chairs I have here at home. That's why I'm walking out.
Oklahoma teachers like Laurissa are fighting for better wages for themselves, yes, but it's a catch-22 situation: unless overworked and underpaid teachers see a change in wages and funding, they simply can't afford to keep teaching in the districts they're in for so little pay. So, many of them choose to leave, adding more students into the classes of the remaining teachers who are also underpaid and spending their own hard-earned money to fund their classrooms. In the end, the students who can't control any of this are affected, something Laurissa is extremely aware of.
"These kids deserve so much better than this," she wrote. "They deserve teachers who are qualified to teach. They deserve classes that are small enough that the teachers can actually spend some time with each student. They deserve CHAIRS. They deserve a quality education just as much as kids in surrounding states."
Since her post started gaining attention, the teacher created an Amazon wish list for her classroom and luckily has received enough new chairs for her students so that no one is forced to sit on the cheek pincher anymore. There are still a number of items on the list that Laurissa would love to have for her students, and anything extra she receives will be given to other teachers in her building and district.
"This is about so much more than a raise," Laurissa wrote. "It's about the future of Oklahoma. That's why I'm walking out. And this bill that just passed is no where near enough to make an actual difference. I'm still ready to walk out and stand my ground."