No longer a rookie

Andy Kwok can breathe a sigh of relief. We’ll no longer be text-messaging him, “dropping by” to observe his classroom, or interviewing his students about how he’s doing.

Kwok, 23, was a first-year teacher at West Oakland’s EXCEL High School who graciously allowed us to document his experience, “recording my every blunder,” as he wrote in a piece that ran in today’s Tribune. (Read the last installment and watch the latest video here.)

Kwok was candid about his shortcomings and his struggles — including his decision last fall to assign easier work to his students because so many of them were failing.

In August, with a year of experience under his belt, Kwok expects to start the year off differently.

We took on this project because hundreds of brand new teachers arrive in the Oakland schools each fall. The district’s turnover rate last year was 14 percent, and most of those vacancies are filled with beginners. It’s common practice for urban districts around the country to assign new teachers to the most challenging schools and classrooms, likely because they have few other options.

As tough as the experience is for the first-year teacher, Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality told me, “The students are going to suffer a lot more than the teacher ever will.”

Oakland Unified hasn’t been shy about taking on bold education experiments. I know district administrators have been trying to find ways to stabilize the teaching force, through better training and mentoring and by recruiting people with deeper roots in Oakland.

What incentives could the district — or the state, or the nation — give strong teachers with two or more years of experience to stay in their schools? Competitive pay? More support (examples, please)?

photo by Jane Tyska, Oakland Tribune

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Katy Murphy

    You never know what interest groups are going to respond to your stories. I figured I might hear from teachers, but the article caught PETA’s attention instead. Hey, at least someone’s reading…

    Dear editor:

    Its wonderful that biology teachers like Andy Kwok are bringing their expertise, patience and enthusiasm for learning to the students who need it most (“Oakland teacher reflects on his first year in the classroom,” June 25). And his struggle to provide a meaningful education given the limited resources available to him is not an uncommon scenario.

    Thankfully, there are modern science education tools, like virtual dissection software, that not only provide a stimulating experience for students, but can conserve schools’ valuable resources and save the lives of animals all at once. Nearly every comparative study has concluded that these methods are equivalent, or in many cases superior, to traditional animal dissection in their ability to provide students with understanding of anatomy and complex biological processes. They are also often associated with increased learning efficiency, superior examination results, student confidence and satisfaction. In fact, the California Learning Resource Network and the National Science Teachers Association both acknowledge the educational viability of these alternatives to dissection.

    Next fall, Mr. Kwok can teach advanced biological concepts, introduce his students to ethical, modern scientific methods and save time and money– all without harming any animals in the name of “education.”

    Justin Goodman
    Research Associate Supervisor
    Laboratory Investigations Department
    People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
    Norfolk, VA

  • Debora

    I hope that Andy and teachers like him are around for my daughter when she is in high school. We need this ability to see the capablity of students, to listen to the misunderstanding of the information presented and the patience to guide the learning mind.

    Thank you Andy.

  • Oakland teacher

    Competitive pay would be nice. The long Oakland goes without paying their teachers what they deserve the more and more experienced teachers are going to leave. We are here for the kids, but it would be nice to get paid as well.

  • John

    Oakland Teacher: The Oakland Schools can’t pay the teachers what they deserve (in spite of OEA’s best effort) when it doesn’t have the money it doesn’t deserve because of the (still felt) effects of its masterless budget and spending practices triggering mandated state intervention.

    Perhaps the OEA clan could do the same old march around and around with the same old signs of the time to demand (beg) money from local corporations or push for another public bondage measure?

    Congratulations to the board on its new re-found authority. I hoped they picked a new superintendent who knows arithmetic?