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A new Oakland teacher, no longer new

By dadiletta
Friday, April 9th, 2010 at 4:26 pm in Dan Adiletta.

Dan Adiletta, Explore Middle School teacherI’ve got half the class laughing at a short, overzealous bit of direct instruction. I had just broken up a fight in the hallway, then comforted a crying teenage girl (don’t let that drama steal your future!). My students struggle with sitting still for more than two minutes, but here they are composing position papers on the Divine Right of Kings. I love my job — even with the headaches that come with it.

Time has certainly passed quickly since I first started in Oakland. I was placed as a social studies teacher at Explore Middle School with the help of Oakland City Teacher Corps, (OCTC).

It’s funny: At the training program they ran for us, accountability and teacher retention were repeated ad nauseam. I was brought in from Cleveland, Ohio to help a district that desperately needed highly qualified, committed teachers. So why, then, was I hired on a temporary contract? In my ignorance and naivety, I didn’t even bother to learn the difference. Now I don’t even get one of the pink slips being handed out — I’m let go automatically. While we were in summer training, we wrote letters of encouragement to ourselves that were to be mailed out later in the year. But OCTC was dissolved. I lasted longer than my encouragement letter did. I wonder what happened to those letters. It strikes me that there’s no accountability for that.

But if you were to ask my wife what the biggest problem I’m facing is, she’d say security. There was a small riot in our “yard” in which 12 police cars were diverted to the school. There is drug use in the bathrooms, though that has been greatly reduced. A student brought a gun and ammunition to school and was able to walk out and escape the consequences. We have one security guard that can see a very limited portion of the school at any given time. I’ve had to break up numerous fights. There are a couple different gang tags that are repeatedly scrawled on our walls and desks. I have received idle and vague threats from students — my colleagues have received worse. I’ve voiced complaints with my principal and with the union.

Some improvements have since been made to our school security. Phones are now present in every classroom (students had stolen many of them). We have had our first “lock-down,” during which students were held late in their last period to prevent a conflict outside from escalating. Our principal is often watching the corner store after school where fights have been known to happen. And an additional security guard is present during our 3:30 dismissal. More still needs to happen, though. There should be more security staff, more sensitive carbon detectors in the bathroom to stop drug use, cameras, metal detectors. But most importantly, we need greater availability of counselors and psychiatrists.

I’ve been working hard this spring break. I’ve listened to recordings of my class, read a few of the books the Education Report community has suggested and developed some manipulatives for my kinesthetic learners. I’m eager to return to work — which is comforting to say out loud. Despite the craziness in my school and the discouraging ambiguity from the district, I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity. I spent three years interviewing for my own classroom, all while people irritatingly told me that it’s no problem finding a job as a teacher. Oakland gave me a chance, and with it I’ve been able to see exactly how deep my potential and resolve goes. I’m going to keep learning and shaping my pedagogy. I hope in my next post I’ll be able to tell you where.

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  • Cranky Teacher

    You have my respect. Keep showing up.

  • ex oakland staff

    “I lasted longer than my encouragement letter did.”
    That’s priceless, but valuable OUSD insight. So much about making a difference as a teacher or principal in OUSD is just about “lasting,” sticking it out. As Woody Allen said “80 percent of success is showing up.” During my first semester in the fall of 1999, one of two boys who tested my skills and patience constantly that fall said “We’re going to be here longer than you are.” That statement probably motivated me to stick it out more than anything they tried down at the new teacher office.

  • Nextset

    The account of life at this OUSD schools is very telling. It doesn’t sound like a school at all.

    One wonders if this teacher has inquired about working at CYA schools, or county schools run at juvenile hall. I think those schools have more structure, security and stability.

    I have asked this question to people when they tell me their tale of woe and presumably want me to make it all better (so they can continue their own behavior which created the mess). “Why are you/were you there in the first place?” What are/were you trying to prove? That the rules don’t apply to you? The odds don’t apply to you? That you are/were going to be the exception to the rule? That 2 and 2 no longer/never did equal four?

    I don’t think it’s a great idea to help a madhouse continue to be a madhouse. At some point you have made the madness possible.

    Being laid off from this may be a good thing. Find a position at a real school with real students. Or apply for Corrections Counselor/teacher positions where you get the proper pay, benefits and most importantly working conditions.

    No real teacher should accdept working conditions as described here. They should all leave as soon as possible with no notice.

  • aly

    your kids are really lucky to have someone like you caring about and engaging them so they choose to sit still and write about the divine right of kings instead of goof off. oakland is really lucky to have had you this year, and we are lucky to have had you share the stories of being a first year teacher in this district. i genuinely hope the district finds a place for you to stay, if you are even interested in that at this point.

    thank you, dan, for all of this.

  • dadiletta

    Nextset,

    The outrage and the indignation at the absence of desperately needed resources is shared. This is craziness! I don’t deny that. My students dismiss the school by claiming it’s just a parking lot, (the yard is a large paved space between the main building and the portable classrooms). But my colleagues are some of the most impressive people I’ve ever met.

    Too many amazing people have worked too hard for me to let the descriptor of mad house go without some objection. I will not deny that the behavior of many students and the measly tools we’re given to handle the situation is shocking. They are nonetheless “real students,” though burdened they may be, and they deserve real teachers.

  • Nextset

    They also deserve a real school.

  • Chauncey

    Welcome to Oakland! The counselor and psychaitrist call is going to do more harm than good-trust me!

    When I attended schools- teachers and principals had, and were required too, have a strong attitude and break you head attitude towards students-now we want to hug them to change?

    Dont you get it (Nextset does).

    Teachers, administrators, and school officials are handcuffed by ideals that have rendred them as eunicks in a world where you are measured by ghetto bravado!

    Guns to school and we want a psychiatrist!

    Old school schools for ghettoness is what I say.

    Who let the let it be and carebear approaches into the inner city? Here is where we begin.

    Good luck to you, but If I were you, I’d quit this ridiculous district. I know many bloggers will attack- but teachers like this will eventually quit anyway.

    A few years to ideals-then real life sets in!

  • dadiletta

    Chauncey,

    You voice a line of thinking that is certainly present in both my and my wife’s minds. I agree with some aspects. But I don’t go all “carebear” with these kids. Their language is centered in aggressiveness of which I am now fluent. I’m not suggesting that we coddle punks that attempt to destroy all the work we put into the school. In fact, I would like to see schools empowered with easier suspension and expulsion capabilities.

    However, if we are to give these desperate students equal respect as we would a suburban student body, then kids that have witnessed a parent or sibling murdered should see a counselor. I have these students in my classroom and giving them urgently needed mental care is not a sign of me going soft. The consequential mental disorders of untreated trauma are a result of liable neglect. And this fuels the climate of fear and violence. Getting tough at this particular root cause will only make matters worse.

    Again, I agree with letting loose the outrage and indignation of a shocked nation at those that defile our schools. But let me share with you a haiku that a 12-year-old girl wrote as we studied medieval Japanese culture:
    Sun hides behind clouds
    Anger darkens within
    “Time to go to school honey”

    Even if the help we offer is inadequate, this girl and many others could use greater support and care–not ghetto bravado.

  • WestOaklandRez

    Wonderful piece. Best of luck to you.

  • Chauncey

    My son came home with an ACLU pamphlet today called “know your rights”. Ironic as we discuss this here.

    Nothing but rights for those that are getting expelled nothing for the adults. One piece of the pamphlet even says that students cannot be held accountable for fighting on the way home! Can you tell me how this is beneficial in a city like this! Let themact like fools. man, we are screwed in this country with this attitude.

  • J.R.

    This “wide latitude and lax attitude” thinking just gives the ACLU a purpose in life. The ALCU are a group that enables miscreants of all political stripes and there is nothing democratically healthy about what they encourage. They need to disband.

  • obama.newage

    Shame our great teachers always are the first to be pushed out. The best of luck to you!!

  • Nextset

    Re: Item 12 above. Perhaps it is best for the bright new teachers to seek employment elsewhere at schools that have a future. Or industries that have a future. While I wish things were better for the proles that are consigned to these terrible government schools – the fact remains that is just not what the proles or the government want (“better” “Change” “discipline” “consequences”). It is useless to sacrifice yourself for a fantasy. The urban schools are they way they are because the parties involved want it so. Why fight city hall? Should we have agonized about closure of the US Typewriter factories? How about the closure of the Yugo Auto Plants? This process isn’t a shame, it is evolution in action. It is healthy.

    The Oakland Tribune has an interesting article on the State Colleges today. The people of the state have pulled the plug on spending money on the colleges also. Let’s just say we are not as proud of them as in 1950. Too much rad-lib politics, I think. Too much open borders welfare state to have such a system. We are closing all the state hospitals also for the same reasons.

    All the consequences of rad lib policy. It is going to get much, much worse, quickly. The politicians are trying to hide what’s happening but we are de-policing the ghettos and very quickly you are going to see stores and industries withdrawing from any commerce involving minorities or their neighborhoods. It will start casually with credit scoring and no-smoking policies and “credentials” for everything and soon become pretty overt.

    Brave New World.

    We were better off when we actually maintained standards.