I’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.