Mining for home-grown teaching talent

Frank Knight, a teacher and basketball coach at East Oakland’s Fremont Federation of Small Schools, wrote this piece about the Oakland school district’s efforts to recruit local teachers. -Katy

As an Oakland public school teacher, the topic of finding home-grown teachers really strikes a nerve with me. I am an alumni of Oakland Public Schools. I went to Fremont High School and graduated with the Class of 1995. Now, Fremont is where I now teach AP Government/Economics and World History.

I have been teaching for seven years and find it absolutely rewarding and could not see myself doing anything else (outside of the education field).

My friends who graduated from Oakland’s public schools went into the job force thinking that teaching was not financially sustainable. That they would love to work with kids and have an impact on generations to come, but find it impossible to live a decent lifestyle being a teacher. I think that assumption is absolutely ridiculous! We all know that the Oakland school district is not at the top in terms of pay, but we have so many other ways of making additional income.

I am currently the athletic director and boys basketball coach at Fremont. I also have worked summer school, been the social science chair, worked Cyber High after school, read history essays for district assessments, worked on extended contracts, and taken on various other assignments that help pad the pay scale.

After doing a little research and asking some of my close friends for a ballpark estimate of what they make per year, I found that I was within $3,000 of their yearly pay (except for my friends in sales, of course). I have been able to buy a house, save for my kids’ college education, vacation in Europe, and do many other things that the average person who is considering teaching might not think possible on a teacher’s salary. Plus I get a lot more vacation days! :)

Don’t get me wrong. I am a staunch supporter of raising teacher pay. I think we are vastly undervalued for what we do. But we have additional vacation days in which we can do other jobs. Many of my colleagues use this time to do things that they enjoy and also get paid for, such as summer camps, educational consulting work, and traveling abroad through grants.

We have had several Teach For America teachers come to our school and do absolutely amazing jobs. When their time is up, they leave for greener pastures, which leaves schools and sometimes entire departments dismantled.

If we recruit teachers who have a investment in Oakland, ones who have lived and gone to school here, people who are not concerned about what everyone else is saying about the city’s public schools, I think we can get good, solid, teachers who will ‘stay the course’ and enrich not only the educational process for our students, but also the community, and serve as an example for future Oakland teachers.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Karis Stoudamire

    Very well said and absolutely true! Your commitment to your profession and to youth is tremendous and soooo encouraging!

  • Nate

    Great article. I’d love to get contact info (email address) for Frank if possible.

  • JoAnne

    Frank is inspiring. What a delight to read this article. I went to Oakland Public Schools through jr high and then to Bishop O’Dowd for high school. I would love to give back to my community the way Frank does. Kudos to Frank for taking care of himself, his family and his community. Great teachers and parents make all the difference!


  • Rachelle


    Thanks for shedding some light on the untold story! I am the new Program Manager for Teach Tomorrow in Oakland, a joint venture w/OUSD and the Oakland Mayor’s office to recruit and retain outstanding people from Oakland who want to teach in Oakland.

    We are extremely proud of this program, and I’d love to hear from anyone who is interested in teaching Oakland’s young people. Please feel free to email me: rachelle.rogers-ard@ousd.k12.ca.us.

    Let’s make a difference in growing our own teaching force!

  • Cranky Teacher

    Frank, you sound awesome. Keep it up.

    For myself, I don’t have a problem with the low pay as much as the unrealistic demands on our time. As a parent and a person who wants a balanced life, I don’t want to work 60-70 hours a week — yet this is what it seems to take to accomplish all that is expected of me!

    Is that what you are doing? It sounds like it.

  • LaRavian Battle

    I grew up in Berkeley and I am an Oakland teacher. I think it is important to include the entire Bay Area when looking for “home grown” teachers for Oakland. I love teaching Oakland’s youth. But I must confess that I need more pay. I resent the fact that I have to take on extra duties as you’ve described in order to make ends meet when I already work hours outside of the school day grading papers, lesson planning and calling parents. None of that time is paid for and yet the only option I have to pad my paycheck is to work more? I am an African American bilingual math teacher that just finished applying for National Board Certification and am in the process of obtaining a tier 1 administrative credential. Surely I am worth a lot more than I am paid. Oakland had better step up its game or we will continue to lose great teachers to other districts.

  • Nancy (Fancy)

    The figures just don’t add up…Purchase a home?…Save for a child’s education?…Vacations?…Where did you get your down payment is one question…What was the total cost of the home is another question and how much of a loan did or could you qualify for is still another?…others tba?

    First, your ability to “pad” your salary is an insider scheme…as well as the fact that your status…A/A Male from Oakland…allows you to coach for one and to actually be an “insider” to get preference both formally and in the view of public opinion…

    Second, with all of the duties of a teacher that are not compensable, where do you find time to parent your own children for one?…and, do you actually perform all of those other duties?…Or, are you also in with your principal and abscond from evaluations?…and, perhaps, parent opinion?…because you are liked and known?…status not based on merit…

    Third, what would be the purpose of investing in higher education or further education and credentials when the professions of both administration and teaching are basically low paid? The +/-$3000 income difference, based on what other professions? Contractors in IT make 100-200K/year in some places in the bay area…last I saw and analyzed over the past 10 years in Oakland, homes are over the 500,000 range…with down payment and

    You are an insider and making based on your status, not merit alone…and I question your Math calculations on your salary and the purchasing power you claim…

    I also grew up in the Bay Area and did many of the Summer school teaching, etc, when I was the lowest on the pay scale..still, the police dept can’t even recruit and retain enough police, much like teachers and administrators if the math is correct…

    The “home grown” theory is divisive along with the theory that teachers are getting more than classified and trades…purchasing power is the key no matter what the proportion is, Mr. Math teacher…

    The theory of content of character is the theory I stand by…

  • Anti Elitist

    Wow! Fancy, I’m guessing you’re not from the Bay… Are you actually claiming that being African American and male is somehow a status of privilege in Oakland? I think I’d have to question YOUR math on that claim! Ridiculous! Your logic is exactly why we need home-grown teachers! Anyone raised in Oakland would clearly see that being African American and male does not give one automatic privileges (unless you include being pulled over regularly by the police)! Why do you assume that character is not what allows Mr. Knight to find extra work? Hmmmm… Also, if you were from Oakland you might get that LaRavian is Ms. Math Teacher, not Mr!

    Anyhow, I am very much in favor of encouraging local youth to teach in Oakland. Some of the best young teachers I know are Fremont High graduates. That’s not to be divisive, it’s just true. I fail to see how promoting more of that is divisive. TFA’s who by definition are not local, are also very well prepared and dedicated, but they tend not to represent our student body culturally. In the best case scenario, Oakland would support its teachers enough to retain all who are dedicated, no matter where we are from.

  • Fancy Nancy

    Actually, the yrear I am scheduled to retire will be exactly 100 years after my grandparent graduated high school in Oakland…our family has lived, worked, and educated in Oakland for over 100 years…Now, on the issue of Black Male Status in employment in the OUSD, that is very different than the status on the street obviously…my comment refers to obvious reverse discrimination (fueled by hate of past historical effects of racism)…I would like to know how to “pad” a salary…Perhaps, the teacher who wrote the article should take a course in Family and Consumer Economics and then breaksown his “padded” salary and what the purchasing power is…a teacger’s salary, equivalent to a beginning police officer in Oakland, allows for 1/3rd take-home pay for rent (next to the inmate families and good families he/she serves), 1/3 for childcare/preschool, and the last 1/3 takehome for food, gas, and other necessities of life. I just would like to see the Math. Last, your wrong “guess” about where I am from also applies to you obvious reversed racist guess about my status, yet in the end we were all created in God’s image, which is diverse, otherwise we all would not be present and diverse on this Earth. People who are different, or have experienced a different kind of pain, whether through racism, sexism, languageism , and/or classism, does not mean their experience is any less, nor does it justify the oppressed to oppress, etc…etc..etc…