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Nelson: More pay, training important for teacher retention

Erika Wright (left) and Jena Nelson in a forum in Stroud
Oklahoma Rural Schools Coalition
Erika Wright (left) and Jena Nelson in a forum in Stroud

Candidate for state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jena Nelson made some public appearances over the weekend.

On Saturday Nelson spoke at a forum in Stroud hosted by the Oklahoma Rural Schools Coalition. Nelson said in the face of a teacher shortage, she would encourage respect for educators.

“We need to have a state superintendent who’s going to elevate and celebrate the profession, and not tear it down and not constantly terrorize the educators of this state,” said Nelson.

Nelson said working with the Legislature to make pay more competitive and offering extra professional development opportunities - including training on how to deal with traumatized students - are also important for teacher retention. Nelson said newer teachers often don't know how to cope with the level of distress they're seeing in young people.

"They say, 'We need more trauma-informed practices. We did not realize how many children we would be meeting on a day-to-day basis that we need to know how to work with them,'" said Nelson.

Current state Secretary of Education Ryan Walters, Nelson’s opponent in the Nov. 8 election, was invited to debate but turned down the invitation. ORSC founder Erika Wright said she offered both a virtual option or to reschedule, but Walters didn’t respond to follow-up questions.

Nelson also appeared at Ebenezer Church in Oklahoma City on Sunday. Pastor Derrick Scobey asked Nelson what would happen to books in schools as teachers adjust to House Bill 1775, a law banning the teaching of racial concepts that could make students feel bad. Nelson said the next superintendent will decide a lot.

“They get to decide whose history will be shared in the state of Oklahoma. Who will be represented in our text books, in our lessons that we teach our children. And there’s already been too much that’s been forgotten, passed over, and not passed down. And so we’re gonna need a superintendent who’s not there for an organization or a party, but for all of us,” said Nelson.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.