A statewide shortage of teachers has school districts, including the state's largest, scrambling to find candidates for their openings. The most recent shortage reported in Oklahoma City was an unprecedented low number of special needs educators.
"There are a lot of kids who are not getting the proper care," explained Cynthia Johnson, a special needs teacher in Oklahoma City Public Schools.
Johnson and her three teaching assistants spend the school day with a classroom of eight, all have autism.
"It's how much you want to get dirty, get down in the trenches and figure out ways that are going to help you see the smiles on their faces, see that other puzzle piece that's missing being put into place," Johnson said.
Johnson's team has put in extra time and has changed lessons on the fly to ensure their students continue to progress.
"It is most impressive when parents say to you, 'I can see a change. I see progress,'" explained Johnson.
Not every student in the district gets what he or she needs, however. Much of that has happened as the teacher shortage for special needs classrooms worsened over recent years.
"We have kids who unfortunately are either in crowded classrooms or they are with a substitute," said Teri Bell, Executive Director of Student Support Systems in OCPS. "A teacher who is certified in an area where they would service students with learning disabilities may not be comfortable in a classroom of students who have autism."
Oklahoma colleges only produced about 50 graduates with degrees in special education last year. The low number of graduates in the field has made it hard to find the right person for the right classroom. So Oklahoma City Public Schools started recruiting heavily from other states. They hope the can offer competitive salaries as surrounding states to lure well-qualified teachers into the city's classrooms.