The Oklahoma Education Coalition says 17 percent of new teachers in Oklahoma will leave the state or the profession in their first year.
Pittsburg County's Jason McMullen stayed in the profession and he spent more than a year teaching in Oklahoma towns including Carnegie and Stigler.
McMullen even came back to Oklahoma after a stint in Dallas, but he said he just couldn't make it here.
Today, he calls Arkansas home.
“The situation in Oklahoma doesn't seem like it's ever gonna get better and for me, it comes down to my family,” McMullen said. “I've got to provide for my family, what I've got to do.”
It turns out, just 20 miles from the Oklahoma-Arkansas state line, in the boomtown of Springdale, Arkansas, McMullen said he has found the place he's always looked for, but could never quite find in the Sooner State.
“You start looking at the growth, you start looking at the teacher's salaries, you start looking at the benefits, you start looking at the way the community supports them and you start going, "wow, this is the kind of environment you dream of as a teacher,” McMullen said.
He’s making $16,000 more than his last job in Sulphur. But, McMullen said it goes far beyond a paycheck to how he’s treated as a professional.
“If there's a challenge that comes up I know that somebody has my back, that somebody is going to help me do the best that I can because we're all in it for the same reason and that is student success,” McMullen said.
Oklahoman Stephen Smallwood was selected in 1996 as the Oklahoma Teacher of the Year. But after 27 years of guiding Oklahoma students in Perry, Lawton and Broken Bow in debate, speech, theater, English, geography and journalism, Smallwood began looking at retirement.
After dedicating nearly three decades to teaching, Smallwood’s salary topped out at $26,000. It was then that he decided to head south.
It was after he crossed the Red River and began teaching at North Lamar High School in Paris, Texas that he received a $10,000 raise.
For more than 10 years, Smallwood drove to work in Paris so that he might have some financial peace-of-mind.
Less than a year after he retired in Texas, he arrived to a welcome that speaks volumes of what Oklahoma lost. It broke Smallwood’s heart to cross the Red River.
After 10 years, Smallwood left behind a legacy played out in hugs and a great amount of respect. It’s what every teacher strives for and what every student and parent hopes for.
Oklahoma had it and lost it. But Smallwood felt the impact of the sacrifice until he retired.
“When I drove across to make a living, I left dreams and visions, my dreams and visions were left in Oklahoma.”