Midwest City is located right in the center of the United States. The terrain is flat, and the summers are extremely hot. The local drive-ins are popular among residents, offering deliciously cold chocolate malts and affordable corn dogs.
While not everyone considers it a paradise, this Oklahoma town has a strong allure for teachers who grew up here, went to college, and then returned to teach at their alma mater. In some local schools, at least one out of every three teachers is a former student, while the rest predominantly come from nearby towns.
For Pam May, a 7th-grade English teacher, Midwest City holds a special place in her heart. She has lifelong friends, family, and a notable spot in the town’s history. In 1964, May was crowned the first-ever Miss Titan at Carl Albert High School. This title still grants her a level of local fame.
After graduating, May attended Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. Along the way, she married a high school football player (they are now divorced), began her teaching career, and became the mother of three daughters. She taught in nearby schools for fifteen years before finally securing a position at Carl Albert Junior High.
May’s two youngest daughters, who are twins, recently completed their senior year at their mother’s alma mater. Stacey even won the title of Miss Titan in 1996, providing a nostalgic moment for the town. Her sister Casey was the first runner-up.
May’s story is just one example of how history often repeats itself in small communities. The strong bonds of family and tradition play a significant role in why many teachers choose to come back home to teach. However, there may be more to this trend.
National estimates suggest that three-fourths of teacher candidates, primarily women attending in-state colleges, desire to teach in the small towns or suburbs where they grew up. It is believed by education experts that homegrown teachers help preserve local values and ways of life. However, there is concern that a teaching workforce mainly comprised of individuals who have not ventured beyond their home state for training or job opportunities has led to narrow-mindedness in K-12 education.
Others worry that this employment pattern exacerbates the existing shortage of teachers in urban areas and isolated rural communities. There are also concerns that local teachers may be resistant to change and new educational strategies, opting to stick to traditional teaching methods. Additionally, experts argue that these teachers may lack the broad perspectives necessary to effectively serve an increasingly diverse student population.
“There is a strong sense of community support and confidence in the local educators,” states Richard N. Corwin, a member of the school board. While the district does recruit teachers from outside the area, particularly minority educators, having local connections is an added benefit. Corwin explains that local teachers feel a sense of pride in serving the community they grew up in and are less likely to leave for another district. Many of the teachers in the district have been there for 20 to 30 years.
However, the residents of Midwest City are not completely shielded from the social issues prevalent in major metropolitan areas. The April 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building shattered any sense of innocence. Prior to that tragedy, school officials had already been working with the police to address gang activity spillover from the city.
Despite these challenges, local teachers have many positive aspects to focus on. Rita D’Andrea, a 7th-grade geography teacher and a graduate of Carl Albert High School in 1969, says, "We are respected as professionals. When we walk down the street, people greet us with ‘Hi, Mr. and Mrs. D’Andrea.’ That kind of respect is not universal." Her husband, Mark, who was also a classmate at the high school, teaches science in the same school. Their daughter, Holly, is a 9th grader at the school.
Teresa Wilkerson, an English teacher at her alma mater, Carl Albert Junior High, explains that the biggest discipline issues in their school are minor incidents like stink bombs and tardiness. She acknowledges that some teachers face disrespect, but personally, she doesn’t have any major problems. Wilkerson, who has led the school’s cheerleading squad to three national championships in six years, recounts a story about asking her former principal why he hired her. She remembers his straightforward response, "Because your blood runs red and gray."
Educational experts have recognized that teachers tend to prefer familiar settings when searching for employment. Midwest City exemplifies this trend. Teachers across the country, from Boise, Idaho, to Bangor, Maine, likely have similar experiences. Recent data has reinforced the prevalence of hometown teachers and has raised questions about whether this pattern of employment is ideal for delivering a world-class education to an increasingly diverse student population.
A study conducted by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education between 1987 and 1994 examined the backgrounds and employment patterns of education students nationwide. The results were revealing: 76 percent of the students were female, 91 percent were white, and almost half of them spoke only English. Furthermore, over 75 percent of these students attended college within 100 miles of their hometowns and expressed a desire to teach in suburban or rural small towns.
Although it is challenging to find national data comparing the number of teachers returning home to other professions like accounting, experts suggest that professionals in other fields are generally more willing to explore new opportunities. Larry K. Hannah, the career-services director at Emporia State University, explains, "Teachers are more likely to seek positions in their home states than graduates in business or liberal arts fields." He notes that approximately 90 percent of the university’s teacher education graduates remain in Kansas, a higher retention rate compared to students in other disciplines, where only 65 to 70 percent of graduates stay in Kansas.
Education observers offer various theories to explain this preference for returning home.
According to Mary E. Diez, the dean of the school of education at Alverno College in Milwaukee, it might be beneficial for teachers to return to their hometowns. Diez suggests that schools are responsible for passing on societal and cultural norms, and teachers who are familiar with their own communities are best equipped to do so. However, Diez acknowledges that this can be problematic in a multicultural society where children also need to be exposed to global citizenship.
David Haselkorn, the president of Recruiting New Teachers Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Belmont, Mass., emphasizes the importance of teachers meeting the needs of every child, regardless of their background or appearance. He believes that it is essential for teachers to be able to relate to and understand all students in the classroom.
Some school officials believe that recruiting teachers from different regions brings fresh ideas and experiences into the classroom. Brian Cram, the superintendent of the Clark County school system in Las Vegas, which boasts a diverse pool of teachers, views their diversity as a melting pot of ideas that prevents stagnation.
However, critics argue that by prioritizing teachers from suburban or small towns, local educators are leaving urban school systems and rural areas without enough teachers. Even in communities with an excess of teachers, educators often choose to seek employment outside of the teaching profession rather than relocate.
Penelope Early, a senior director at AACTE, expresses concern about the implications of this trend. She suggests that in areas with a surplus or deficit of teachers, there is no guarantee that teachers educated in one location will be willing to move to another location where there is a need for teachers.
On the other hand, school administrators believe that having a pool of local applicants is advantageous. They believe that local applicants bring a sense of loyalty to the community, as they have invested time and effort into it. However, administrators also value qualifications and are not willing to hire individuals solely based on their locality.
Janell Jones, a chemistry teacher at Carl Albert High and an alumna of the school, is highly regarded in her profession. Her achievements include coaching her varsity girls’ basketball team to a state championship. Despite having taught outside of Oklahoma in the past, Jones’s deep roots and family ties make it challenging to entice her away from her hometown. Her parents live nearby, and her husband’s job and the affordable cost of living in the area provide a comfortable lifestyle.
Jones values her return to her hometown to teach and emphasizes the freedoms she enjoys, such as openly sharing her Christian beliefs with her students. She mentions how she leads her teams in prayer before games, a practice she was unable to engage in when she taught in Minnesota.
While Jones appreciates her high school teachers and acknowledges that they made her school experience positive, she also recognizes the value of her time in Minnesota. The hands-on chemistry training she received there has greatly influenced her teaching style.
In conclusion, the debate over whether teachers should return to their hometowns is complex. While some argue that familiarity with the local community is essential, others believe in the importance of diversity and fresh perspectives. Ultimately, it is crucial to find a balance that ensures all students receive an excellent education.
May has been visiting Chicago more frequently ever since her daughter, Amy, moved there to pursue a career in stand-up comedy. May mentioned her desire to visit a school in Chicago one day, although she isn’t sure if there’s anything that would make her want to relocate her trade there. She simply finds it interesting to observe schools in Chicago. However, just as local teachers tend to make generalizations about urban schools, individuals who have moved from urban settings to the Midwest, particularly teachers, have their own fears and misconceptions about smaller communities.
Joy Ahmad grew up in the predominantly black Watts area of Los Angeles. She obtained her undergraduate and master’s degrees at Stanford University, where she met her future husband, who is originally from Oklahoma. When they moved to Oklahoma twenty years ago, Ahmad decided to homeschool her young daughters instead of enrolling them in local schools. She was apprehensive about allowing her kids to attend school there, worrying about how they would handle being around black children if they had never encountered them before.
Two years later, Ahmad took a teaching position at Rose State College, which was nearby, and enrolled her children in public schools. All four of her daughters attended Mid-Del schools, including Carl Albert Junior High and Carl Albert High. Ahmad expresses her satisfaction with their experience at Mid-Del, despite encountering few minorities in her daughters’ classes. She mentions that the most exciting and interesting teachers her daughters had were from the area. Ahmad, now leading cultural-sensitivity workshops for educators, acknowledges the existence of race-related tensions and questions among local teachers, particularly as the number of minority students in the area increases. Although Midwest City is currently 77 percent white, 16 percent black, almost 4 percent American Indian, and 3 percent other minorities, she believes that teachers primarily worry about whether minority students will accept them. There is also concern about overcompensating and tolerating misbehavior in order to prove the absence of prejudice. Ahmad advises teachers to remember that these are children first and foremost, and that fear of unfamiliar cultures should not hinder their teaching.
Silvya Kirk, originally from New York, moved to Oklahoma from Miami in 1987 when her husband was transferred to Tinker Air Force Base. After hearing positive reports about the Mid-Del school system for a year, she decided to enroll her children in the local public schools, despite initially placing them in a private school. Kirk, who is also African-American, admits that the district may not offer as wide a range of opportunities as larger systems, and some local teachers may have a limited worldview. However, she praises the schools for their willingness to embrace new ideas and make the most of their resources. In an effort to increase the number of minority teachers, Kirk helped establish a teacher-cadet program at the school a few years ago, which introduces minority students to the possibility of a career in education. She believes it is unfair to assume that teachers from the area have no room for growth just because they are likely to remain in the same location for an extended period.
Mary Porter, a teacher originally from Canada, mentions that her colleagues at Carl Albert Junior High have always welcomed her as a member of their community, despite the visibly obvious fact that she is not from Oklahoma. However, she does have one complaint: she dislikes the emphasis on competitive sports between primary schools, considering it premature to determine who is good or not at such a young age. Porter, who also coaches golf and volleyball, would prefer intramural sports, but has been told that this is not a topic of discussion.
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