Where Do We Go from Here? A State Teacher of the Year reflects on his run for the Oklahoma State Senate.

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By Shawn Sheehan

We gave it a good run, friends. #SheehanforOK

That was my concession Tweet after I lost a bid for Oklahoma State Senate.

At school this morning, a former student passed me in the hallway and offered comfort.“Hey, Mr. Sheehan, I voted for you!" she said. " I’m sorry you didn’t win but you’re gonna go for it again in four years right?”

My face was less than enthusiastic. I thanked her for her sweet comment and responded, “Ooohhh, I dunno.”

It’s a difficult decision.

The sting of defeat was pretty powerful, especially since I earned only 38% of the vote in my home district, amounting to over 12,000 votes. My Republican opponent (the incumbent) received over 21,000 votes. Even now, the math teacher in me keeps running the difference in my head: approximately 9,000 votes.

It didn't help when on that same day my state voted against providing a $5,000 base salary increase for all educators via a 1% sales tax increase. I was one of the initial three petitioners to sign the petition last spring, and when the case went to court over its constitutionality, my name was among those appearing on the court documents. We won that challenge, but we lost in the end. Now, as a sixth-year math teacher with his Master’s Degree, my base salary will remain at $35,419 and my total compensation--including benefits--amounts to $38,100. My net income per month will remain just under $2,100.

I got into the race not long after being selected as Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year and a Finalist for National Teacher of the Year. I felt such a strong sense of duty to advocate for educators that when I was approached about a state constitutional amendment to provide much needed funding for education, I signed on, quite literally. Frustrated at the lip service I’d received from legislators who weren’t doing their part to fix educational budget issues, I later decided to run for office. And I wasn’t the only one.  More than 40 educators ran for office, and 16 made it past their primaries with me.

After last Tuesday, I feel like the message we teachers received in Oklahoma was: 1) you have no place at the State Capitol, and 2) we will keep saying we want to fund education, but we won’t follow through. Only one actual teacher won his election and he will join the only other already elected.

And yet I still think about what my former student said at the end of that conversation in the hall. She told me, “I hope  you do [run again]. Don’t give up on us. We need you!” She was in a hurry, and I was headed in the opposite direction to a meeting. But that’s how it goes for me and my students. That’s what I taught them. When things don’t go your way, don’t let up. Keep moving forward. Literally. Keep. Moving. Forward.

 

Shawn Sheehan is the 2016 Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year and a high school mathematics teacher. He recently ran for the Oklahoma State Senate.





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