When Andre Jones graduated from MacArthur High School in Lawton, Oklahoma, in 2008, he was sure of one thing.

He would become a teacher.

Jones, who is in his first year as a middle school and high school choir teacher in Grove, said he always wanted to be an educator.

But it took the passion - and some leadership training - from his high school band instructor, Larry Hatch, and his choir teacher, Kelly Martin, to help jump start his career.

"He was so passionate," Jones said, recalling Hatch. "He showed you how much he cared. 

"[Martin] inspired me as she was a conductor in front of people." 

In a way, Jones is a second generation teacher. His mother, Susan Jones, spent much of his high school and college years finishing her own teaching degree.

In fact, they both embarked on their teaching careers in 2012 - Jones in Balko, Oklahoma, his mother in Lawton.

Jones said in elementary school, he would be the student who would take the teacher's worksheets home and grade them, making marks in his own grade book.

He said Hatch helped helped him break out of his shell during the two years Jones served as the band's drum major. 

"He helped me step up and be a leader," Jones said. "He gave me the tools and pushed me in that direction. It was what I needed to become teacher."

Jones said watching Hatch, Martin and others, also taught him to become an advocate for his students.

Jones said he loves teaching because it gives him a platform to share one of his passions - music. It also gives him a tool to help connect with his students.

"There's so much more than teaching the subject matter," Jones said. "I use music as a tool to teach leadership, responsibility, professionalism and teamwork.

"I teach the students to work together to create beautiful music."

Jones said while his students may not become music educators or full time musicians, he hopes they will leave his class ready for college or a career.

"They can take what they learn in my class and apply it to adult life," Jones said.

Teaching has taught Jones to be tenacious, and persistent. It has also taught him to find ways to help students find the fun in learning.

While some teachers dislike the administrative side of the job, Jones jokes he finds comfort in tracking his program's finances, raising funds and making sure the students have what they need to succeed.

"I care about my students and love them," Jones said. "I want them to have better textbooks and resources to use. 

"This [the walk out] is not about a pay raise. I knew coming in I wouldn't make a lot of money. I want to educate the next generation of kids, and we need resources to do that."

Jones said his best moment as an educator, to date, came during his first years of teaching. 

"I had a student who lacked self confidence," Jones said, adding he worked diligently to find ways to give her confidence in her abilities. "In my second year, she was able to go to state contest. She got a one in her flute solo at districts and at state.

"Through all the hard work, she realized she was good enough. It helped her feel confident that she could do things, despite life's ups and downs."

Jones said the student is now pursuing a music education degree in college.

"It's a cool feeling to know I helped in part of her journey," Jones said. "I like to be in the background, pushing people into the spotlight and saying 'you can do this.'"

Inspired in kindergarten

After 29 years of teaching, Lu Ann DuBois said she's found her niche in teaching.

The career educator, who began teaching in Grove after her graduation from Oklahoma State University in 1989, teaches fourth through sixth graders in the Upper Elementary STEAM Lab.

STEAM or Science, Technology, Education, Arts and Mathematics, allows DuBois a chance to mix creativity with technology as she teaches her students a multitude of lessons.

"I absolutely love what I do," DuBois said. "I don't want to leave and I don't want to do anything else. 

"[Yes] some days, I want to bang my head against the wall, but we get through it and the kids enjoy what they do."

DuBois credits Carol (Hilliard) Pritchard for part of her inspiration for teaching.

"She helped me fall in love with school," DuBois said. "I loved kindergarten. She was the sweetest, prettiest lady. She made school fun."

DuBois said she would play school, at home using an old-time school desk and supplies from a local store in town.

While she dreamed of becoming a teacher, family encouragement to pursue a different field led her to enroll in journalism and psychology at OSU.

After a year of classes, DuBois said, she knew education was her destiny. So she changed her major, enrolled in education classes - then told her parents. 

The change made her lose 30 hours from her freshman year. It also made DuBois determined to graduate on time. She went "year round" for the next two years, spring, summer and fall semesters, to get her degree.

"This is what I was meant to do," DuBois said. "I just woke up one day and knew what I needed to do. This is what I was put on earth for - to make a difference in a child's life, and help them succeed."

Joe Ethridge, then superintendent, gave her her first teaching job, hiring DuBois to teach half-day kindergarten. Later she would move to the second grade, a position she filled for 23 years. She's worked in the Upper Elementary for the past four years.

DuBois admits the STEAM lab gives her a chance to step away from the regular classroom stressors - including mandated state testing and classroom behavior issues.

She said students know being in her classroom is a reward, and DuBois strives to make it enjoyable. 

Going to Oklahoma City this week has been a challenge for DuBois, who said while talking with students is easy, talking to adults "makes her voice shake and gives her the hives."

"I hope my students see the truth and know we aren't walking out because we are money grubby, money hungry people," DuBois said. "I want to stay out, so they don't suffer for the next 10 years - with a chair that pinches them when they sit in it, or pulls their hair. 

"I want them to have enough art supplies, so we can really do art work, and not use stubs of colored pencils. I don't want to rely on fundraising, or GEFFE or Rotary Foundation grants. We're not in this for ourselves, but for the whole school.

"I want kids to know they have a voice and they have a right to stand up. I want them to find their voice like I found mine."

While DuBois' parents were not educators, her maternal grandfather, Willard Holderby taught history and served as a superintendent in western Oklahoma.

Her maternal great-grandmother, Edith Holderby, was a teacher in a one-room school house. A teacher with an eighth grade education. Her aunt Judy Beauchamp was a kindergarten teacher at Grove.

"I can't imagine doing anything else," DuBois said. "I don't know what I could possibly do, that would enrich life like being a teacher."

Generations of teachers

Educators in Kristi Hampton-Collington's may only be two generations deep, but those generations are wide, she said, when her parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and others are taken into account.

"Everyone in my immediate family has served as a teacher in some capacity," Hampton-Collington said. 

Even her husband, Jason Collington, who works as a journalist at the Tulsa World, has taught courses on the collegiate level.

Now their daughter, Kellon, is ready to become the third generation to take up the family business of education.

"I was in Oklahoma City in 1990 [with my parents] when HB1017 passed," Hampton-Collington said. "It's crazy to be back here, fighting the same fight with my daughter.

"I can't lie. I'll admit I've tried to deter her. She has said she wants to help people. I told her you can be a doctor or something else. But she has her mind made up. She's standing her ground.

"I can tell [being in Oklahoma City] is fueling her passion. It's definitely recharged me."

Initially, Hampton-Collington wanted to pursue a career in tribal law. When she was introduced to Cherokee language classes in college, she discovered her true passion.

Her career path, as an Indian Education educator, became a reality when she qualified for a $10,000 Native Scholar program through NSU. 

That program allowed her to pursue her master's degree - something she said would have been next to impossible on her beginning teacher's salary.

"When I started teaching, my dad had to help me pay my electric bill," Hampton-Collington said. "When I got my first check, I cried. By the time I paid rent and everything and put $100 back like my dad taught me, I didn't have anything. I thought, 'oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself into.'"

Hampton-Collington said the master's program fueled her passion for Indian education. 

It later took her to Muskogee and then later Glenpool where she served as the Indian education coordinator for 14 years.

When her mother, Lona, retired from a similar position, Hampton-Collington found herself drawn back to Grove.

She has a desire to help students in Delaware County discover their native roots, and learn more about their culture.

As the district's new Indian education coordinator, Hampton-Collington works with all ages of students. She helps students not only learn Cherokee history, but to also prepare for the annual language bowl competitions.

She loves knowing her family has impacted generations of Grove area students. 

"It's all about building relationships," she said. "I can't see myself doing anything different."

Those relationships, Kellon Collington said, are why she wants to become a teacher like her mom.

Ultimately, Hampton-Collington hopes her students know frustration, not finances, led teachers to walk out.

"I was here in 1990," Hampton-Collington said. "Since then they've only cut and cut and cut. Teachers are the most flexible.

"My dad always said 'I can teach it round or flat,' and never say no, just do it.

"You can tell people are frustrated at [Oklahoma City] and are just saying enough is enough."

Retiring but not leaving

After 27 years of teaching, Donita Goforth is ready to retire. 

But the art teacher at the lower elementary said she's not ready to give up school.

Not bad for someone who didn't like school as a student.

It took a while for Goforth to discover she wanted to be a teacher. After graduating from Grove High School in 1974, she worked in a variety of jobs including waitressing and child care.

She also worked as a substitute within the school district.

She remembers the day she stood in front of a social studies class and something clicked.

It was that day, Goforth decided she would begin to study for her teaching degree.

"I felt called to teaching," Goforth said. "I knew if I could change one child's life, it would be worth it."

Four years later, after attending Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Goforth was ready for her first classroom.

Initially, she taught half day kindergarten. Later she moved to second grade. For the second half of her career, she taught art at the elementary. 

While she will retire in May, Goforth she's already looking for ways to stay involved in the education field. 

"I feel like it's time," she said. "I didn't want to become the grouchy old teacher who needed to retire. But I will miss my kids."

Goforth said teaching has taught her patience, and how to tune into her students needs.

"I like to root for the underdog," Goforth said. "I'm always looking for kids with problems to be there for them."

Goforth said despite changes, from a pencil and paper driven class to a technology based learning, students remain the same.

"They still need hugs and still need a chance," Goforth said. "It's a fast paced world and we're not stopping to give the chances that are often needed.

"Not everybody learns the same. Sometimes you have to step back [and help]."

Goforth said she hopes her students know she chose to walk out, not for the raise, but to help them obtain supplies they need to succeed.

She misses the days when students could take field trips to museums and other areas outside of Grove.

Goforth followed in the footsteps of her grandmother, Esther Davis, and her aunt Eva Dell Reese. Her daughter, Kelli Rosenburg is working full time and taking night classes all designed to become a teacher.

"It's all about the kids," Goforth said. "I'll bet I hug 20 to 30 kids easy in a day, and that doesn't count the high fives or fist bumps.

"I'm not a perfect teacher, but if I can make somebody smile, I've made their day.

"I'll definitely stay in the education field. The possibilities are endless. If God wants me to be in education, or in a certain place, I believe the doors will open up for me."

Regrets, frustration

Given the choice, David Hampton would not be an educator.

The Grove man, who began his career as an educator in 1990, said if he could go back in time he would tell the 1983 graduate of Grove High School to find another career.

In fact Hampton, who has served as both an administrator and teacher, said he most likely would have forgone the family business of education, and instead made a full-time job out of working in the oil fields.

"I've tried to steer all of my kids away from education," Hampton said, even though his daughter, Kellea did follow in his footsteps and now teaches in Jay.

"It's a noble profession and has a decent retirement," Hampton said. "It's too bad it's come down to [the walk out] to get a raise in 12 to 15 years."

Hampton said he'll leave his classroom at Fairland behind on May 15, to report to the oil field in Odessa, Texas, ready to work 120-plus hours a week for the summer.

Oil work, along with breeding Bernese Mountain Dogs with his daughter, and construction/furniture building during the school year, help the family make ends meet - and put his children through college.

"There's more to life than money, but it sure helps," Hampton said. 

A retired teacher's perspective 

For 30 years - 28 of which were spent in Grove - Carol (Hilliard) Pritchard taught within the Grove Public School system.

For many of Grove's graduates, she served as their first look at school, as one of the district's long-standing kindergarten teachers.

She's watched as it's gotten harder for her colleagues to teach in the last few decades.

"Instead of going upward, it's been cut after cut after cut," Pritchard said. "The drop in funding in the last 10 years is not acceptable."

Pritchard was part of the teachers who walked out in 1990. 

"We made some progress, but it's sad it's come to a walk out again in order to get proper funding," Pritchard said. "I think it's a larger scale this time because the cuts are so devastating."

Pritchard things educators should be respectful and professional, but continue to be united and persistant.

"The future of education in Oklahoma is worth it," Pritchard said. "The children in Oklahoma deserve better."