Teaching in Oklahoma

A land of magnificent sunsets and intense thunderheads, Oklahoma is a beautiful place to live. Not only that, but the state boasts affordable housing, a low cost of living, an unemployment rate only half of the national average—and a Rogers and Hammerstein musical celebrating the entire state.

In an effort to keep this state a beautiful place to live, Oklahoma takes its education seriously. And because it does, it could be a great place to start—or continue—your own educational career.

What’s the education climate in Oklahoma?

Oklahoma’s C3 plan (college, career, and citizen readiness) was implemented in 2010. The State Board of Education is using this initiative to produce graduates who are ready for higher academics; ready to take higher-skilled jobs; and ready to participate in local, state, and national government.

Average Salaries for Oklahoma Teachers
  • Elementary School: $41,980
  • Middle School: $42,160
  • High School: $43,320
  • All Oklahoma jobs: $38,190

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Four specific educational reforms have grown out of the C3 plan. First is Oklahoma’s Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation program, which collects information on state schools and uses that feedback to identify best practices among teachers and principals. The goal is to develop models for education, guarantee that every classroom has an effective teacher, and ensure that every school is run by an effective principal.

A related reform identifies Reward Schools (the highest performing) and Priority Schools (the lowest performing, requiring targeted intervention), giving public credit to achieving schools and funneling assistance (or making management changes) to those in need of it. Simultaneously, parents will be given information about schools through a new letter grade system, allowing them to make direct comparisons between schools.

Finally, the state is revising its third-grade graduation requirements. Social promotion at this level is being eliminated; students who fail reading requirements at the end of third grade will be given targeted remedial instruction in the summer. Meanwhile, greater assistance will be given to teachers in third grade and below to develop better strategies for reading instruction.

Oklahoma is also one of several states granted waivers from the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, allowing the state more flexibility in implementing educational reforms without coming under the penalties that would be imposed by NCLB in the meantime. Governor Mary Fallin welcomed the waiver as a chance for schools to more accurately measure and contribute to students’ academic progress through state-specific practices, rather than a one-size-fits-all national formula. That said, State Superintendent Janet Barresi declared that Oklahoma’s own reform efforts will be in the same direction as the goals of NCLB, and supports reauthorization of the act. For Oklahoma, the waiver is not a step away from educational improvement, but a means of approaching it in a better, more state-specific way.

Job outlook for Oklahoma teachers

Graduates of Oklahoma teaching programs can look forward to a healthy job market. Oklahoma has more than 2,000 openings for new teachers each year, both to replace retiring teachers and to fill additional openings to keep up with growth in school enrollment. Elementary-school teaching positions account for the 14th highest number of job openings in the state; high-school teaching positions also made the list of top occupations, at 29th.

There is currently a high demand for early childhood teachers in Oklahoma. Among secondary teachers, the greatest demand is in the areas of math, English, science, music, and business.

What benefits do Oklahoma teachers have?

Oklahoma ranks 47th in teacher pay; however, this isolated fact doesn’t tell the whole story. Because the cost of living in Oklahoma is well below the national average, teacher salaries measured against cost of living actually show the state to be above the national average—as high as 18th in the nation.

Also, Oklahoma’s benefits packages are actually better than those of neighboring states. Teacher benefits include health, vision, dental, disability, and life insurance, and amount to an additional 21.3 percent above salary (more than $9,000 annually for the average high-school teacher).

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System (OTRS) has recently been named the single best mid-sized pension investor in the country (by Money Management Intelligence, at their 2012 Annual Public Pension Awards for Excellence). In 2011, the pension fund saw a 23.5 percent return on investments, despite the flagging national economy. Oklahoma teachers may retire with full benefits at the age of 65, or at age 60 if they have taught for 30 years.

Oklahoma schools are on a traditional schedule, with summers off. Counting summer and winter breaks, teachers get 15 weeks’ worth of vacation time, working between 180 and 190 days out of the year.

Several organizations in Oklahoma (see Oklahoma Teacher Organizations) are devoted to teacher development, and to providing educational resources to Oklahoma teachers. These organizations often publish and discuss research on teaching programs and techniques, and often offer classroom activities and curriculum supplements for teachers.

What are the credentialing requirements in Oklahoma?

In order to be licensed to teach in Oklahoma, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an approved college teacher-training program, successfully complete a student-teaching assignment (lasting up to 12 weeks), and earn a certification recommendation from the officials at that school. Additionally, you must pass the Oklahoma Subject Area Test (OSAT) for the grade level or subject you wish to teach. After also passing a criminal history background check, you can obtain a standard certificate, which must be renewed every five years.

Oklahoma also issues provisional certificates to those who have completed teaching requirements in another state. While teaching with this certification (valid for five years), they must work to complete any additional classes and requirements for full Oklahoma certification.

Finally, Oklahoma also grants a shorter-term teaching license to professionals arriving through alternative credentialing avenues—for example, a biologist who wishes to teach high-school biology. Such a license is valid for one year, and renewable for up to three years, during which time the teacher may complete the additional requirements needed for full certification.

Additional details about the processes involved in becoming a certified Oklahoma teacher can be found at the Oklahoma teaching certification website.