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Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Relocates to Texas to Make Ends Meet

August 13, 2017

On July 02, 2017, NPR reported that Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, has taken a job in Texas for the 2017-18 school year, where he and his wife– also a teacher– will make about $40,000 more per year.

shawn sheehan  Shawn Sheehan

Sheehan tried to remain in Oklahoma, where he ran in 2016 as an independent for a state senate seat. He garnered 37 percent of the vote, but it wasn’t enough to oust Republican incumbent, Rob Standridge.

Sheehan had hoped to work to confront Oklahoma’s steep funding cuts to education. In 2014, Oklahoma led the nation in cuts to educational funding, where in 2013, it ranked second to last in per-pupil funding. In FY2014, Oklahoma ranked fourth from the bottom in per-pupil spending.

And as Sheehan told NPR in July 2017, in Oklahoma, he and his wife earned a combined income of approximately $3,600 a month:

Sheehan and his wife are both public school teachers. Supporting just two people, he says they could make the money work. Together they brought in about $3,600 a month. “So, after all bills are paid, we’re sitting on about $400-450 per month.”

But in late 2016, they had a daughter.

“Sure, life can be done on $400, $450 a month, but I would challenge others out there to buy diapers, groceries and all the things that you need for a family of three on $400.”

Indeed, teachers nationwide often must earn additional money in order to be able to afford unexpected expenses or even to just make it from month to month. (Also see here and here.)

Too, teachers employed in schools in upper-end neighborhoods often cannot reside where they teach. This issue came up when I interviewed Ann Marie Corgill, Alabama’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, who taught for several years in Manhattan:

Schneider: [At lunch today] you told me that you came home– part of it was that you missed home, but part of it was a cost-of-living issue because you wanted to live where you were teaching.

Corgill:  Right. I did. I made the commitment to myself when I said, “[If] I’m moving to New York City, I want to be in the middle of it. I want to live in Manhattan.” I’m small-town, Clarke County, Alabama, Thomasville, Alabama girl gone to New York City. I want to live it up. I want to be the single girl in the city and do everything I’d imagined that I could do in that place: Learn, grow, be exposed to cultures I had never been exposed to.

I all of a sudden had a whole lot of friends who wanted to come and visit New York. So, I had a lot of guests in my little, tiny [flat]. …My friend Heather used to say, she called it my 500-square-foot studio [apartment] “the room.” I said, “It’s not ‘the room,’ and we’re not living in a hotel. This is my home. We’re not going back to ‘the room.’ We’re going home.” She used to make fun of [how small my apartment was]. 

The first apartment building I lived in did look like a hotel. I mean, it’s thirty stories high, and [to a person] from Birmingham, it did look like a hotel. 

Schneider: But the cost of living was a problem.

Corgill: Yes. I think my cheapest apartment rent was $1900 a month. And I lived in four different apartments in six years just because of cost, or buildings would go co-op, and then they’d give you the option to buy. What teacher has $2 million to buy a one-bedroom?

Like Corgill, Sheehan has had to face the practical issues of insufficient finances when it comes to a teaching situation he’d rather keep if it were fiscally possible:

Jon Hazell, this year’s teacher of the year, says he would ask Sheehan: If more teachers leave, who is going to teach Oklahoma’s children? …

Hazell believes you can’t put a dollar amount on teaching children. …

And Sheehan respects that idea, but disagrees. He says he feels called to teach, but he also wants to be paid like a professional.

Being able to afford to raise his child is certainly not much for Sheehan to ask.

shawn sheehan 2  Shawn Sheehan


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

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