An Open Letter to Lawmakers

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The following is written by my dear friend, Julie. Julie is a mom, a teacher, a librarian, a writer, and works in the school where my youngest attends. She pours out her heart and energy every day of the week for other people’s children, not for the pay (because it’s pretty crappy) but because she has a passion for education and knows it is the thing that will make a difference in a child’s life who otherwise may continue in a cycle of poverty and/or abuse.

dear lawmakers

Dear Lawmakers, State and Nation,

Let me first say thank you. I appreciate the sentiment to which many of you have decided to serve your people. I imagine that it is a great responsibility representing so many people with such varied backgrounds and opinions. I know a little about this, as a teacher serving 600 public school students from all walks of life. I hope and pray that you use your power and time wisely and to the betterment of our great state and nation.

Let’s talk about hope and prayers. By now I will assume that you have seen the many sarcastic memes and such on social media. It makes me sad. Firstly, because hope and prayer are two foundational tenants of my life of faith. Second, because it’s true. We’ve all done the condolences, the hand-wringing, the never agains.  Then, it’s Monday, or test day, or sign-up for soccer day and life goes on. Until, it happens again, and there’s always an “again” these days, isn’t there?

So, let’s talk about the again. Because that’s really the problem, now isn’t it? Doing nothing and yet expecting things to change. And yet, nothing is changing. Change isn’t coming with partisan politics. Change isn’t coming with blaming the other side. It isn’t coming with hope and prayers. I believe that my God is powerful and infinite and capable of literally everything. My God is so powerful that He is secure enough to give us free will. He trusts us to make our own best decisions and guides us whenever we may seek His voice. Which is sadly not often enough.

As I said, I am a teacher. A librarian actually and I work in an elementary school. The close to 600 children in my school each have a story worth telling. A story worth crafting and encouraging and protecting. Last week, Oklahoma legislators again, voted to do nothing to increase teacher’s pay. Our state refuses to increase taxes for those raking in billions while Oklahoma ranks as one of the lowest in the nation in teacher salaries. Instead they sought to increase taxes on renewable resources and tobacco. The opposition voted it down and it didn’t even make it out of the House. It was not a perfect plan, but at this point something, anything to show teachers that they are valued, appreciated, considered a resource worth keeping, would have been something. I have a Master’s Degree and 14 years of professional library experience, including academic, public, and school libraries. I would make over $50,000 annually 100 miles to the North or South, an approximately $15,000 increase over my current salary.  Yet, my life and family are here.  I am one of the lucky ones as I have a spouse with a good paying job and feel financially secure.  

I know many teachers who work two or three jobs just to pay the bills. Teachers who have been driving the same car for 12 plus years or who have not taken a real vacation in a decade. Teachers who work hours before or after their “contract” time just to get their classroom ready for students. I challenge you, drive by your local elementary school on a Sunday afternoon and count the cars. Summers off? We more than make up for that.

Let’s talk about “active shooter” drills. We call them “lock down” drills so as to not terrify the children. Have you ever been in a building full of 600 children cowering and silent, tucked into spaces meant to hold backpacks? I have and I cry every time. The first few times, I had to rush and hug my own biological children after the all clear, just to feel their warm skin and smell their individual smells. I hope and pray (yes, there’s that again) that this horror never comes to my school. Because in my school, I have children who need and depend on me not to mention my own flesh and blood somewhere in that building. My heart stops just thinking about it.  

I live in a “red” state. I come from gun-owning veterans on both sides, and am proud of it. I do not know a single person who needs a semi-automatic assault rifle. That means, I do not currently know any active duty military or law enforcement personnel.

These weapons are designed to kill people, which they do, quickly and efficiently. This is why they were created. For the military. No one needs these weapons to hunt deer, or defend their homes.  

I believe in the 2nd amendment whole-heartedly but I do not need a semi-automatic rifle to get through my day. I do not need it to make me feel safe, or free. My husband has to buy a special license in order to fish with my son at the pond in our neighborhood. But he can buy an AR-15 at Walmart? This doesn’t strike anyone else as slightly insane?

Are you so scared of one “special interest group” that you can’t even consider the possibility of a little compromise? Especially in a state where teachers are so over-worked and under-compensated? Would responsible gun owners actually object to saving the lives of children sitting in their classrooms at schools with some common sense laws? Polls tell us that they would not object.

I know that these situations are all complicated, and I haven’t even touched on the issues of the mental health crisis or students from trauma or other unfortunate circumstances. I know that our society has some very complicated issues but I also know that there are some that are not so complicated. Like investing in the education and safety of the next generation. I hope and pray that your children, grandchildren, neighbors, and friends never have to worry about being shot in their school.

I, however, think about it every single day.

I invite you to visit my school during one of our “hard lock downs.” I know that myself and our administration would appreciate having you see, first hand, what we do as we test every locked door and walk the halls, putting ourselves at risk to make sure that your future Oklahomans are safe.

With hopes and prayers,

Julie Kreft

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