The struggle to leave family problems at home

Guadalupe Rodriguez is an eighth-grade student at Westlake Middle School. She wrote the following piece about challenges at home that sometimes distract students from their school work. -Katy

Hi everyone, this is my first time blogging so I hope you all enjoy my writing.

My first blog I chose to write is about family problems and how they affect teens in school. Teachers talk about how bad their students are, but why don’t they look more at the causes? Teens have problems just like adults and it’s harder for us to handle. Some kids have to do so much at home they can’t do their homework. Others have so much on their minds during school it’s impossible for them to think.

Either in class about “Am I going to fail the math exam?” or at home “What will I get yelled at for today and why?”


These type of situations are what can cause low grades in school, although not in all students. Some are just too irresponsible to have good grades in school but for those that are capable and just can’t, people should think of them. Some examples of what causes this pressure are problems like losing a loved one, being mistreated, abused, and taking care of little brothers and sisters. Taking care of a brother or sister can be a lot of work, sometimes simply just not having the freedom to have fun at all.


Some ways to relieve yourself a little is to just sit back and read a book and let your imagination do the rest. This is one way to relax but there is more that people can do. Not all teens take the best ways. Most just relieve themselves without knowing they are drowning themselves with drinking, using drugs, or gang banging. In school it’s hard to keep grades up but not impossible. It takes a lot for someone to handle so much and have good grades at the same time.

My advice is just to leave everything at home, even if it seems difficult. Nothing is unreachable when you put your mind to it and you really want it.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Nextset


    You have an interesting blog subject. Teens and their personal and family problems.

    What the teens need to know, to really understand is: Other people don’t care.

    A student’s problems are his or her own. There are ways to settle your problems. When you are in school, in a class, with deadlines and work due – nobody wants to hear you are having a bad day because someone yelled at you or somebody treated you badly. We all have problems of our own, we don’t need someone elses.

    I think there is a proverb about a man feeling sorry for himself because he had no shoes, until he met a man who had no feet. The point I’m making is that teens, and for that matter people in general – need to work on their problems and take care of them. When they are on a job, and school is a job, nobody wants to hear it.

    See a counselor, see a nurse, call a cop, talk to the teacher privately and ask for referral to someone who can help. But don’t think you (students in general) can use your problems as an explanation or excuse for not doing the schoolwork. If the classes can’t work out because you are unable to do the work for any reason including illness or disability you need to change programs or otherwise deal with the situation.

    Lots of people get up and work theough life with problems. maybe you haven’t lived enought to have met them. You will, later. Cancer, abandonment, I have inlaws who were the ones on the boat that didn’t sink. The father didn’t make it, his boat sank. You will learn that whatever your problems are others have it worse and they are competing with you. Keep up.

    You can’t expect other people to make allowances for your personal problems – except at Little Sisters of the Poor. School is not a charity. That’s downtown somewhere. Do what you have to and keep up with the others as best you can and that means saying something and getting help outside of class if required.

  • Harold

    Guadalupe, ingore the post above. You go to a wonderful school, full of exciting, dedicated teachers and support staff. “Keep your head up” and work hard this summer, so you can get a great start next academic year. You’re young and your future is bright.

    Good luck, and enjoy the break.

  • Pepe

    Nextset, I was wondering how long it would take you to write a condescending, inappropriate response to this piece. Not everyone is as intelligent and self-sufficient as yourself–we get it. You tell Guadalupe that nobody wants to hear it, but no one appointed you to be our voice. Although sharing many similarites, school and a job are not the same. Children are not adults, and they have needs not necissarily shared by those who have lived longer. Your high-expectations too often comes across as callousness. Your preaching, while at times logical, has no effect here–these are lessons that our children need to experience in order to learn. I am just glad you are not a teacher.

    Guadalupe, thanks for taking the time to write this. I can tell by your last line that you are doing what it takes to be successful. Keep that up and encourage your peers to do the same!

  • Nextset

    Pep: This is public discourse. Guadalupe is doing well to start working in this field. But this is how it goes. It does no good if a writer posts whatever and is merely patted on the back for doing so. I disagree with her premise. Many people would. If no one said a thing she gets no feedback on what she is thinking and posting. I think she is just adult enough to participate here and that means getting the other side of the issue.

    Urban Public Schools carefully indoctrinate students into a different way of thinking than the private prep schools. That way of thinking holds the public school kids back later in life. The “Poor me” and “Victim” mentality starts subtly but by 12th grade the students are flat out inpaired in the marketplace. My post is to remind G and others such as her of how the world works. When they leave the shelter of OUSD it’s rough and they’d wear better if they had a clue as to what to expect.

    If you take a job, or join a program, you don’t drag your personal problems to the fore and expect anybody else to give you consideration for them. It’s always nice if you have a good day but you don’t ask for or expect breaks from other people’s accounts because you have a problem. You take care of your problems yourself or prevent them from occurring in the first place. OUSD and similar schools teach indicipline. Part of indicipline is the notion that s*** happens. Real world goes something like you let this s*** happen and it’s not our problem. I could elaborate for not now.

    Everybody has problems and healthy teenagers are in no position to trade “Poor Me” stories with a lot of other people especially the immigrants who are here to displace them in US society and economy. I’m a lawyer. I have had immigrant law clerks. I have worked with black law clerks. The black law clerks are few and far between and the trend for them is clearly fewer and fewer. Relatives have similar stories about med students. I’m black and I don’t like all of this one bit. But who can deny such tough, capable, competitive people coming into the professions? After you really get to know them (and with some digging) you learn of disadvantages and personal hardship that I wonder if I could have overcome. One horror story after another. And here they are, never feeling sorry for themselves or using excuses to avoid being better than the competition.

    And the WWII generation had similar stories. Cannery workers becoming Judges, etc.

    I don’t think your schools are teaching anything like I’m describing here. I don’t believe your students are being told how to deal with their problems and how to compete with Ken and Barbie. I believe indiscipline and non-competition is being served up so that students such as G are impaired and they don’t have to be..

    And I really believe No One is ever going to say anything to people like G until it’s too late for them. I do say it. Maybe it hurts to hear it. That’s ok by me. It’s the pats on the back that is holding back the minority urban students.

    And the real function of OUSD is pacification, not education.

    Brave New World.

  • Nextset

    A Postscript. One of the strongest memories from my teen years was taking Physics and Biology at Oakland Tech during two summer session which was run by UC Berkeley. The Bio classes were taught by a black woman and an asian woman who were postgraduate students at Berkeley. I’d never seen minority teachers before. We got a year of credit for each summer session. On the first day of class with 25 or so students we were told that is we missed 3 (my memory – it seems severe) days of classes no matter what the reason we were out. Because of the compressed schedule they had to certify our hours and 3 days gone would break the bank. We were given some other number of tardies – if you passed that limit you were out. You didn’t have to explain yourself, show up on time or don’t,

    We were told it doesn’t matter why it happens. If you get hit by a bus, car breaks down, have to go to a funeral, get sick, injured skiing, have an operation, it doesn’t matter. They don’t do “excused absenses” – they don’t need to hear why we aren’t there. if you have to go, go. But miss 3 days and you can’t come back.

    Nobody missed 3 days. 2 Maybe.

    Most of us were from public schools in the East Bay. We found out almost daily that we were not in a normal school anymore. That was the first clue. You should have heard their policy on late assignments.

    I remembered these classes all during college and law school. It made things easier there.

    OUSD kids won’t get these lessons. But they are feeling good… Just like the Nina Simone song.

  • Debora

    Nextset: UC Berkeley still has the program. For elementary school the program is three weeks of indepth study in a specific topic. For example, at the end of third grade it’s human anatomy including disecting slaughter house animal organs, if you miss two classes for any reason, you’re out. It doesn’t matter how gifted, motivated, liked, troubled, creative or excused – you’re out. Homework every day. Miss two homework assignments, you’re out.

  • Debora

    P. S.- It’s the very best, bar none, educational program of its kind. What you learn in three weeks at four hours per day is more than you learn in the regular classroom in an entire year, and while the class in enjoyable, you do not have slackers of any type for any reason.

    Highly motivated students, whether or not they are gifted.

  • harlemmoon

    Nextset is a tad harsh here. But he’s right.
    Youth, along with the help of competent, caring adults, must find their way through the daily quagmire that is life. Having a bad day won’t cut it in the real world.

    OUSD is indeed a breeding ground for “woe is me.” A particularly troubling posture in a 2.0 universe.

    I used to watch with revulsion and pity as OUSD seniors – like some sort of annual bizarre ritual – would protest the California High School Exit Exam. Their argument centered around the exam being “unfair” and “too hard.”

    Meanwhile, 10th and 11th graders in nearby school districts were passing on their first swing.

    I give Guadalupe props for speaking out. But now it’s time to step up.

  • Nextset

    Debora: I learned a lot of things in those classes beyond the subject. The teachers discussed getting into college, selecting a major, their career planning (they were all working on advanced degrees and were not planning to teach secondary school for a living) and life issues.

    But what just sticks in my mind as I read this blog is the overriding attitude that this work will get done or you won’t be here. I had already had a taste of this from Catholic 1-8 but I was in a public high school at the time. My high school was tough also, but this was more than I’d ever seen before. They were nice, charming, fun people while at the same time business-like to death. These teachers were going places and we were someone on their appointment sheet. It was like spending a summer with a doctor or a lawyer – if that’s the right comparison.

    There was no false praise AT All. No pats on the head. A students were noted matter of factly like it was expected. The students who were having not so easy a time were attended to to a point and allowed to pass or fail on their own. Some students dropped out – presumably they couldn’t cut it and were flushed away within a few weeks. There was no drama at all over that. I believe they were told they were failing and were going to fail and they had to make a decision to drop while they could avoid an F or a D and try again next summer or in their own school.

    This is how a real school runs.

  • Nextset

    Harlemmoom: I really don’t think I’m harsh. My ancestral public school teacher relatives were “harsh”. I just think I’m reasonable. I will promote a person beyond their expectations if I think they have a reasonable expectation to rising to the job. And I will replace someone in a minute who crosses lines that may not be crossed. I can communicate expectations – nose to nose if required. I’m not running the North Pole and neither are the schools.

    The job of a school is to get the students ready for what comes next. It’s harsh out in the Brave New World and it’s getting harsher. My students (when I’m training) are always ready for has to be done. That’s how I was brought up in High School, In College and in Law School. I wouldn’t be in practice as a lawyer (who happens to be black) if I was allowed to be any more symtathetic/romantic/whatever than I am, and many, many others like me didn’t make it, some in the family. And that goes double for the physicians. Some of my family members made it through med school, licensing and practice. Others didn’t make it. I know those who didn’t make it (flunked out of professional training and licensing).

    So I don’t think I’m harsh. I train people the way I was trained – this is no different. The teachers are not your mother, not your social worker, and not your pastor. Get into the subject matter or flunk, get appropriate help for your personal problems and leave them outside of a classroom. Referrals for the support groups are available elsewhere, try the counselor or principal’s office. If a student can’t meet the demands of a (an educational or vocational) program they need to go elsewhere and not hold up others.

    And that lesson needs to be taught in 8th grade as well as 12th.

    I wish Guadalupe well. I hope she notices who among the educators she encounters takes which approach and how their products are doing. I wonder If what I’m saying hasn’t been said to her before in such discussions of educational policy. Looking over her comment again I see the line:

    “Teachers talk about how bad their students are, but why don’t they look more at the causes?”

    And I think, maybe because “the causes” don’t matter. Either the student is ready, willing and able to do the program or the student needs to transfer out to another program they can get ready, willing and able to do. Or the student had better change in a hurry.

    Normal public schools are not “reform” schools. The Reform School teachers get paid more.

    Brave New World.

  • Chris Vernon


    Thank you for your wonderful blog post. Yes, it’s difficult to succeed in school when faced with difficulties at home.

    You and your fellow students can find inspiration from the example of Sonia Sotomayor – President Obama’s choice for the most recent opening on the United States Supreme Court. She was born to a Puerto Rican family and grew up in a public housing project in the South Bronx. Her father was a factory worker with a third-grade education, and died when Sotomayor was nine years old. Her mother raised Sotomayor while working as a nurse. Soon, she may serve on the highest court in the land.

    I wish you the best of luck in whatever you decide to pursue in life.

  • Debora

    Guadalupe: I, too, appreciate your post.

    My life was very similar to yours. My father left when I was in kindergarten. My mother, who is psychotic and delusional with narcissistic personality disorder, married my stepfather who beat his first wife to death. He came with two children. By the time I was in third grade I was scheduling my own “parent – teacher” conference as well as those conferences for my sister and two step-sisters.

    I was responsible for making doctor and dentist appointments, making sure they had birthday parties (very minimal since I couldn’t work), brush their hair, make sure they had baths, do the laundry and try to make life feel reasonably normal. I would help with homework, help them check out books at the library, help them get volunteer positions at the Lindsay Jr. Museum so they could learn what responsible adults actually did.

    My step-father was horrid. He was mean, abusive in every conceivable way. And now he had more of us to practice his craft. My mother knew and did nothing.

    Through it all my savior, was school. I studied Spanish and French at school (in elementary school I asked for additional work), I learned about European art from teachers who had copies of famous paintings on their classroom walls. I learned science, asking about science in the “parent – teacher” meetings of my siblings. And always, just as I thought I could work, care for children and study no more, a teacher was there to say, make it to adulthood and your life will get easier.

    And it did. I worked full time and went to school full time to be able to graduate from college. I paid off my student loans in 3 years by working a full time and part time job while starting a career. I delayed having my daughter until I could take child development classes and make enough money to give her what I didn’t have. And above all I am teaching her that a love for learning will get her through life and give her a life.

    I am not unsympathetic to what you are going through day in and day out. You have a choice. You need to make it early on before the doors close on your choice. You need to choose to be an educated person, to put your energy in learning. Not just to pass the tests, but to gain the knowledge your family does not have. I promise you, being an educated adult will be a breeze, even with the ups and downs of life. And with an education you will be able to make a life worth living.

  • Chauncey

    The world is rough yes, but it will be rougher with a full dose of the feel sorries. You have it all compared to your folks who immigrated right? Ask them about their lives. If things were great in other countries- then why are immigrants here?

    We all have it better than those that came before us. Stick to your work, and make no excuse> then you will succeed.

  • Catherine

    I hear Guadalupe’s and other students excuses and see their distractions.

    Electronic devices waste precious time for a student who has homework, school work, caring for siblings and chores. Imagine how much learning can be done in the time a pre-teen has sent two dozen text messages.

    There are so many people in this world, a few on this list for example, who have overcome difficulties by staying focued on their goals that I wonder if teachers, counselors or the principal (vice principal?) should spend time helping students like Guadalupe develop personal goals on which she could and should stay focued?

    Guadalupe, would you personally be willing to sit down with a counselor and set personal goals, then check in monthly to make sure you’re on track? Would you be willing to learn how to manage your time better? Would you be willing to spend less time using electronic gadgets if you KNEW you could improve your education?

  • Chauncey


    How about telling her parents to take them away! These are the same type of parents that will one day blame the schools due to too much HW or whatever. Then they will blame the state when Medi-cal is taking away, then blame the city when things go wrong with their offspring.

    Man – I feel as if we, as a nation, forget Oakland, our country no longer has any common sense. We are at the whim of excuse mongers, lawyers, and politicaians- all of whom will gut this country.

    So many many lost kids, so many lazy a** parents, and so many excuses.

    Brave New World? How about , Brave Old School- damn how things are wrong! Its sad.

  • jenny

    Katy,Great blog to start with the family problems that teens face every day, and yet if affects also in their education. Parents & teachers need to understand the problems teens face, and their aftermath.

  • Nextset

    I do support the school’s maintaining nurses, police officers and even social workers to work with the kid’s problems. I don’t believe the teachers should be expected to work on social problems outside the classroom. Teachers are there to instruct, test and work in their instructional fields. Teachers should not be expected to help manage venereal disease, sex abuse, pregnancy, domestic violence, and addict/psycho/loser household lifestyle problems. The teachers are not there to parent the kids.

    This is one area where the administration should get off their own rears and take the primary point on problems and not dump it on the teachers. If there is a problem that may render the child unsuitable for the school or the school unsuitable for the child it’s administration’s job to attend to the problem. And I hope they have both the support staff (a nurse or phychologist available/on contract) and the connections with county social services to help the kids. These are not teacher problems.

  • http://ibabuzz.com RuBbzZ

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  • Zora

    Thanks Katy. Your thoughts for others is really kind and inspiring. The thought of you caring for others makes my day a little better.