What it takes to help kids succeed: an Oakland teacher’s view

Randall Bustamante teaches 11th- and 12th-grade English at Mandela Law and Public Service Academy on the Fremont Federation Campus in East Oakland. The sixth-year teacher tells us about the power of listening to students, giving them hope, and not being afraid to “deal with the life that students face in and out of the classroom.” — Katy

Randall Bustamante in front of his portable classroom in East Oakland. Courtesy photo.

What does it take to help an Oakland youth succeed?

My answer to the question is rooted in the lives and struggles of my East Oakland students. First, we need adults who are willing to listen.

I listened my first year when one of my students said she wanted to graduate high school even though she had gotten pregnant at 15 and no one in her family cared whether she finished school or not. She graduated anyway. I listened several years ago when a young man who was about to graduate said he thought joining the military (at a time when the U.S. was sending combat troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan) was a better option than trying to make it here in East Oakland. He is now in a prison cell for having sold drugs.

I listened last year in the back seat of a police car, to my undocumented student who sat hog-tied and sobbing about how the officer abused his power and falsely charged him with “resisting arrest” all while saying “you don’t know who you f-ed with.” In response, several adults in our school community confronted the administration and police. When several of us adults found he was going to Santa Rita correctional facility to face deportation because he defiantly rode his skateboard on campus, we joined him in court and got the judge to throw out the case. This is just a taste of what working, and for some educators, “living” amongst the students is like.

If adults truly listen, there is a possibility that these educators, community members and staff will actually do something to help the youth have a chance at success. There is a shortage of adults who are willing to go the extra mile. But this is exactly the kind of response that our students need if they are to have any chance at pursuing a higher education as well as a better quality of life. We need adults from the community who can share the burden and offer hope in a challenging environment. We need someone who can say to the youth: “there is hope for you, and here’s how you can make it.” We need adults who don’t work from 7:45 to 3:15 and go home. East Oakland demands a lot more help than a 56-minute lesson from its educators if we are to truly offer the opportunity to help our students rise above their personal oppression.

Unfortunately, I sometimes feel like I am surrounded by adults who do not even try to address the financial or social needs of the students. I don’t believe this sentiment comes from any disdainful attitude toward students, but rather out of fear. Honestly, I think a lot of adults come to Oakland because they want to help, but they become paralyzed when they see how much is stacked against the students. “How do we help students when their own parents don’t seem to care?” or “how am I supposed to teach English when these kids put their heads down?” some might ask. And if they do venture to ask the student why he isn’t “trying,” some educators might find it was because the child could not sleep through the arguing last night or perhaps because he has not eaten that day. We need educators who can lend an ear to his struggle and get that child fed. We need adults who can give the child a chance to make up the lesson after school or the next day. Even more simply, we need adults who are not afraid to deal with the life that students face in and out of the classroom.

So to answer my question again, it takes a lot to help our students succeed. If we are serious about helping students overcome the injustice that has followed them throughout their lives, then we must listen and respond appropriately. I don’t pretend for a moment that I can do any more than the next educator, but I do believe listening is the first step to making a difference in the lives of our East Oakland youth, and I cherish the experience.

Katy Murphy

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

  • oaklandteacher


    Thank you from the bottom of my heart with the work you are doing with our young people. I too teach in East Oakland at the high school level and fully agree with you about listening to students first.

    Thank you thank you thank you!

  • Ms. J.

    It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job of supporting your students, and going beyond the basic job description of a teacher to do so. I recently paraphrased Pedro Noguera, who reminded us that if urban schools which serve poor people are to have any hope of success the adults who work in them must be willing to expand their notion of what it means to be a teacher. Anyone who works in most Oakland schools knows that many of the kids have needs which go beyond phonics (or the high school equivalent). I see examples every day of adults who understand this and who act on it.

    However, I take issue with the negative judgment of your colleagues implied in your post. You criticize the people who work from 7:45 until 3:15. How do you know what they are doing before and after those hours? Many teachers take work home because their schedules require it. Or if some teachers do leave at 3:15 and don’t return to work until 7:45, maybe it is because they have commitments of their own. It is not your place to decide they are not doing enough simply because they don’t do as much as you do.

    If what teachers do to fulfill their contracts is not enough, and in Oakland it most often isn’t, then the answer is not for all teachers to become martyrs and do more than their share. That is not a sustainable response. For too long teachers and other public service workers have done this because if they don’t the children suffer. But it is well past time that we acknowledged that there are other people in our society who need to be responsible for these many problems as well.

  • J.R.

    I have often said “not everyone should be a teacher”, not everyone has the heart,drive,compassion and stomach for it. You are definitely a world changer(one child at a time of course). Those people who see it as just a job probably shouldn’t be there(our kids wouldn’t do any worse and would probably improve), and in their place should be people who see it as a call to make a difference(like you). I thank you, and when your kids think back to these years, they will thank you also.

  • J.R.

    Randall …..
    Just to add, teachers like you are way,way underpaid because of the system we have in place. Teachers who don’t care,or are not capable are way overpaid(whether they see it that way or not).It’s just too bad we don’t pay people what they are worth instead of this ridiculous step and column for years served(some people just don’t give much service).

  • Sue

    I think students need more than just active listerns. they need a solid educational pogram. But I truly think that cities like Oakland, Los Angeles and other major urban areas need to undergo a dramatic change in how business is dealt.

    Yes some kids got it rough and may succeed; many others have it rough will succeed. These students are at risk of losing out a future because teachers will slow it down for those who need to be listend too?

    Tracking-done right is good. There should be opportunities for some to get into colleges and scholarship more than others- They worked for it!

    I am all in with what is right for kids- but sme shoes just will not fit others.Teachers are underpaid but I think they lost their edge by unions alignment to the blue collar instead of the professional college graduates.

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    Sue, I don’t get a sense that Mr. Bustamante is slowing anything down to meet his students where they are in life. Kids in crisis can have as much college potential as anyone else.

    There are extremely bright kids in Oakland who come to us from group homes, or terribly abusive environments, or who have watched parents die or disappear, or who are caught up in gang junk or other questionable activities because that’s been the norm for teens on their block.

    When children who’ve had rough experiences so young start writing, or participating in class discussions, their insights and contributions can be amazing. A major obstacle we face, though, is the distrust that some of our students have for just about everything and everybody, including schools and teachers.

    Mr. Bustamante’s commitment to his troubled students has surely made some of them more receptive to a solid educational program. We owe all of our students the kind of rigorous curriculum that will prepare them for college, career success, and functioning in life. But if they’re not buying what we’re selling, or if they haven’t the self worth to claim the possibilities that a good education can provide, that’s when the heads go down on the desks, or the street drama starts spilling into the classroom, or they stop showing up altogether.

    We can’t get deeply involved in all our students’ lives and issues, but sometimes having a teacher say “You’re worth my extra time…you’re worth it” can empower a child who hasn’t experienced a lot of validation or encouragement.

  • Hot r

    Bustamante has it half right. Listen to the kids, defend the skateboarder from deportation but then make alliances with the other teachers to raise the level of academic achievement at his school with high expectations in the classroom. Closing achievement gaps is hard work over a long haul with plenty of help.

  • Nextset

    “I listened last year in the back seat of a police car, to my undocumented student who sat hog-tied and sobbing about how the officer abused his power and falsely charged him with “resisting arrest” all while saying “you don’t know who you f-ed with.” In response, several adults in our school community confronted the administration and police. When several of us adults found he was going to Santa Rita correctional facility to face deportation because he defiantly rode his skateboard on campus, we joined him in court and got the judge to throw out the case. This is just a taste of what working, and for some educators, “living” amongst the students is like.”


    And I suppose he really believes that nonsense about officers “abusing their powers”… If some fool gets hogtied in the back of a local patrol car they were chimping out even more than usually seen. The hogtying is just not that common. We know what really happened here. And We can see where the behavior is coming from also.

    Bad public schools teach their students to defy authority, break the law, do it in front of witnesses, cry when they’re caught, and expect to escape the consequences.

    The problem is, when you keep doing these things you sooner or later face the full consequences.

    Perhaps this teacher should play “I fought the law and the law won” as background music for his classes.

    Because that is the way things eventually end up for black and brown children who run around thinking they know more and better than police officers and other authority figures.

    Children from good schools learn better. Yes, you can outwit authority – but you’d better plan it and better have a good escape route also. You don’t say and do whatever comes into your tiny little mind in public, and you don’t take on authority on a whim in their province at high noon either. People who do that are called “inmates” or “decendents”. They are also called “expelled” at better schools.

    A Public School should not have anti-authoritian teachers teaching anti-authority. In public school students should be continuously taught respect for law (both criminal law and civil law).

    Do otherwise at the risk of your students well being.

    Which is what I see every day.

    Brave New World.

  • Shadeema

    Wow, I went to Fremont (Media Academy) back in 03-05 and we needed teachers like you. You are doing a great job because the voice they may not have at home, you’re giving them at school. When I was there Ms.Ebony was the only person who cared about students as much as you do.

  • J.R.

    And I suppose he really believes that nonsense about officers “abusing their powers”…

    I was one of those people who believed all police officers were noble and trustworthy(servants of the people), but when I was verbally abused and disrespected by a few I learned that is not always the case. In these days there are heightened feelings of racial animosity,blame, and fear mongering(even here on these boards). So what make anyone feel that the police are any less prone to the weaknesses of such human emotion. The police are human, and they are capable of exhibiting ,passion,prejudice and abuse of power.BTDT, but I still give them their due respect although I am cautious.

  • gordon danning

    I can’t disagree with what Mr. Bustamante says in general; however:

    Why is it that every time the media sets forth an exemplar of a “good” teacher, it is the same thing: A caring teacher who is “there” for his or her students? Why do we never see exemplars of teachers who are asking kids to attempt serious scholarly/academic endeavors (and no, presentations don’t count)? The closest thing we see is some “neat” field trip, or some great opportunity, but when I hear students complain about teachers (and I hear it a lot, especially from college-bound seniors), I NEVER hear them say, “She wasnt there for me” or “We didn’t go on field trips.” I DO hear, “I didn’t learn,” or “we never do anything,” or “class is to easy.”

    So, where are the stories and posts from teachers who are doing a good job of challenging students to grow intellectually, not just emotionally?

  • Nextset

    JR: I agree with you that some cops are low lifes. It happens. Not Often. Ditto TSA workers. And the list goes on. We can talk about our recent Presidents also.

    That’s not the point.

    Black and Brown kids – teenagers – are in no position to go forth and run their mouths off to meter maids or any other authority figures while they are doing their jobs. When these kids do so, they tend to be looking for trouble and they will find it. When they start chimping out in the middle of a felony car stop or a search warrant execution they can (legally) get their heads blown off, or more likely, get the other people around them hurt while they engage in breast beating.

    There is a time, place and manner to making your points and taking your profits or whatever you are in the market for. Our Proletariat youth need to learn how to carry themselves to get ahead in life not to get busted on every single traffic violation they might have been given a warning on. In growing up with the Nuns in Catholic Grade Schools we (largely blue collar italian/irish) were taught what to kiss and when. Those (up from blue collar) kids are now living in Danville or Berkeley or anywhere they want, they have done pretty well.

    What I read here about how these kids are being trained by their public school to flout the law and fight with law enforcement rather than to learn reading, writing, math, history and to get ready for the first good opportunity that comes along in the Brave New World. That is a recipe for disaster. It is the disaster we see in the courts with the black/brown young people. You don’t see this with the Asian and Jewish students.

  • Nextset

    PS: It’s painful to have to keep saying it but the USA is headed to a Police State and the penalties for being on the wrong side of the law are getting truly terrible.

    Your black and brown students are typically on the wrong side of the law in their sex lives, their drug use, their driving conduct, and other areas of their day to day existence. Our bad public schools refuse to teach Criminal Law so the kids have to learn it in the violation. We even shut down driver’s ed so we refuse to teach the vehicle code. We don’t teach contract and civil law in the public schools so the students have no clue when they are in the wrong there either. They become fodder for the Judge Judy show – where young people are seen to have not the slightest clue on liability issues.

    To combine this appalling ignorance with an outsized notion of their “rights” in encounters with police officers is so dangerous it can get someone killed.

    The typical black/brown fully grown child is no match for anyone they encounter in the criminal justice system. They do not have the training from school to keep their mouths shut and keep their wits about them (taught that authority figures know well how to do their jobs & get you if you give them something to work with).

    Our schools valued it’s students and taught them how to make it in the Brave New World. I don’t see that here.

  • Nextset

    In post #8 5th para from the bottom, Typo: “decendents” should have been “decedents”.

    JR: You post #10 – I agree, people are people.

    Students should be raised to be able to navigate through society. That includes not waving red flags in front of bulls and expecting sympathy when gored.

    Roll the Chris Rock Video:


  • J.R.

    I agree, there needs to be rigor, but(and this is a big but)there needs to be mastery of basic skills early on(this is the foundation for learning), and some people are dropping the ball(parents,teachers admin)social promotion has really hurt the last generation. In my opinion Mr.Bustamante has the makings of what a prototypical teacher should be. If he were teaching in the ‘burbs’ he would be just that much more effective, and no doubt he would adapt his style accordingly. First things first, you have to “reach them to teach them”, and these kids weren’t reached young when they should have been.

  • Katy Murphy

    What about the East Oakland School of the Arts teachers who offer AP English classes before school? The students I interviewed and wrote about talked extensively about their intellectual development, improved writing skills and ability to understand complex texts. The students said their teachers were there for them and challenging them intellectually.

    But to your emotional vs. intellectual growth point: Do you think you can have one without the other?

  • J.R.

    You need both types of development of course, but to make it happen you need very good teachers, involved parents and supportive admin.

  • ASK

    Striking a balance between the emotional and intellectual with students is every teacher’s challenge. I know as a young teacher I made the mistake of getting too involved in the emotional. I wanted my students to like me and feel comfortable in my class. I wanted to be “down.” I soon realized that they needed a teacher more than they needed a friend. They craved structure, interesting content and high expectations. They appreciated being challenged while also getting the support they needed to meet that challenge. My good initial intentions did not serve my students well. I learned to listen and LEARN about my students – how they learn best, what their challenges are, and what they are really good at. I used this information to tailor the classroom. I became a much more “strict” and “hard” teacher as I developed, however, I also connected with students more and even more importantly I moved from fostering dependence to fostering independence and scholarship.

  • On The Fence

    I hear the great intentions that Mr. Bustamante expresses, but I’d be a little careful to jump on the bandwagon that his approach is better than his colleagues.

    I believe very deeply in this type of therapeutic paradigm, in general. Listening to our teens helps them to express their feelings instead of acting out their emotions. It can allow them to hear themselves, process their lives, learn trust and acceptance, gain support from others, etc. However, it is only one paradigm, and its success varies widely. Furthermore, I believe in this approach as a parent, and in therapy (by a trained therapist), but do not feel that teachers necessarily have the skills and boundaries that would make this a particularly good teaching trait.

    I also don’t think that instilling hope, connecting, and otherwise having a positive effect on students should be thought to somehow happen before 7:45 and after 3:15 pm. A student can have a life changing epiphany at 9:45 AM when the teacher looks them straight in the eye and says, “You are meant to do better, now go spit out that gum!” The idea that we should encourage teachers to stay late or address financial issues sounds like a slippery slope of enmeshment to me, not to mention an unfair request.

    There are other folks who might believe in the paradigm of strict discipline and consequences as the best way for a child to truly succeed. Amy Chua might represent the bizarre end of this spectrum, but lots of reasonable people might assert that all this listening, supporting, and empathizing is overrated, and creates dependence and entitlement. Someone with this view might point out the child described in the above essay who was lent a ear and attention only to end up in prison for selling drugs. Where is the success in that?

    In all, I remain a bit leery. I appreciate professional boundaries and modeling appropriate behavior by teachers, and above all, solid teaching in the classroom during school hours.

    BTW, ASK seems to offer a really solid perspective. Thank you for your input!

  • Randall Bustamante

    I certainly appreciate reading everyone’s comments. First, I’d simply like to address the fact that I could have written about a number of issues, but I tried to speak on just listening. The intellectual discussion would have to be in a different piece. Most of these comments are really thoughtful. I have really enjoyed reading them. I do believe this community has greater needs than most others. Therefore I expect more of the adults who choose to come and teach here. If we do not, then we end up turning a blind eye to the inequity that exists.

    Second, I’d like to address Nextset
    I didn’t want to dwell on the matter, but the officer I mentioned made it a point to coerce the witnesses who filmed the scene and threaten to arrest them if they did not surrender their phones. After which, he deleted the video that the bystanders took. I’m all for teaching students to respect the law. Did the officer comply with his own training?
    In this case, it was not asked of the officer to arrest the student who remained on the soccer field with other students who should have been in class. He took it upon himself to escalate the situation. And yes, we did have a discussion with administration and security. I asked that we be more thoughtful about handling defiant students. What would you consider an appropriate response? Does riding your skateboard and hanging out on the soccer field mean you should go to jail and be deported? Does the punishment fit the crime?
    In this case, I took issue with the poor policy enforcement by the administration. On countless days, there are a number of kids who challenge authority skip class to hang out on the soccer field. This student did nothing most other students have been allowed to do. From what I could tell, it seemed like the officer was having a bad day and took it out on the student.
    I don’t demonize authority in my classes. In fact, I actually have strengthened ties with both the school officers and the administration in hopes to more appropriately handle problems in the future. We have to work together to make a difference. Just this year, the officer mentioned has helped with numerous students who have been distressed with their own personal crises. I don’t consider him a villain, but I am not afraid to challenge an adult if something does not appear to be appropriate.

    Last, our school is a law and public service academy. This student knew his rights. When he noticed the officer overstepped his boundaries he asked “why are you doing this?” and later asked witnesses to film what the officer was doing. I don’t think that translates into resisting arrest. Should he have been arrested in the first place? In our school, we pride ourselves on empowering students to become civic-minded leaders, educated voters and active members in the community.

    I appreciate the discussion and look forward to more. What do our youth need?

  • Nextset

    Mr. Bustamante: I am not surprised at your position in the post above.

    Remember the Mickey Mouse Cartoon “The Socerer’s Apprentice”? Or the phrase “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”?

    Trying to teach black and brown teens that they can second guess law enforcement in the field – and then expecting them to go forth and get it right, sets them up for disaster. This is exactly what we see and about what we’d expect from leftist anti-establishment educrats. I suppose I’m preaching because I’ve had my taste. Maybe what we have here is a generation gap between you and I – or maybe it’s the experience gap.

    You don’t have the time and you don’t have the skills to teach black/brown youth California Criminal Law and related State/Federal Constitutional Law. And the youth in question don’t have the time, patience, or brainpower to absorb the subject under the conditions you would be teaching in. Even worse, there are differences between classroom and textbook training and practical application of Law, and discretionary powers granted executive & judicial officers.

    If you were serious (and I use “you” to mean your school as a whole) in trying to teach some of this to the kids you would need to do so by bringing in Police Officers, Deputy District Attorneys, Deputy Public Defenders, Probation/Parole Officers or local Judges and other professionals to do the lectures and the training. You are wholly unqualified as a lay person to opine on criminal/civil law and it’s application.

    It’s not that you don’t mean well although I can debate that too, the problem here is the Mickey Mouse problem. If you fill some boy (and the problem is more the boys than girls) with false notions of “empowerment” about his “rights” and send him off to play LA Law in the streets of Oakland, hormones flowing, etc, he is not going to get it right and he’s going to make hash of himself and his friends. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. You are (half) teaching dangerous instrumentalities – as if how to mix chemicals or poisons, or handling volitile compounds. Success, or not getting really hurt can depend on so many variables and getting everything right that the only way to stay safe is not to play these war games. That is until your students are more mature, better trained and with a better control of their emotions and wits.

    I’m afraid your instructions are not those needed first, which is (for students) to stay out of trouble in the first place and keep your wits about you.

    Anyway, it’s fun to teach all this “empowerment” nonsense. You’re not the one facing the consequences, they are. What I’m reading you are up to is no different to the black kids listening to their jailhouse lawyers and screwing up their cases beyond redemption (as opposed to Ken and Barbie who keep their mouths shut and let Shapiro, Cohen & Klienfield do their talking for them).

    As far as your complaint of the one incident a silly student got himself into – I’m not worried about it and maybe you shouldn’t be either. These problems should be handled by the parents and the lawyers, not by you. You weren’t there anyway and there is no reason to believe you have the facts correctly. If you let the kids run to you with ever sob story they can muster (instead of their parents and their lawyers) you are setting yourself up for a lot of hand wringing and a lot of drama and the hands of teens who know exactly how to push your buttons. You are their teacher not their buddy. Stop acting like their buddy. If they have a problem refer them to a professional (John Burris is the go to man in Oakland for this sob story).

    It will be interesting to see what a professional such as Burris would make out of this. Most of these sob stories go nowhere and for good reason – because the kids are in the wrong and the cops are not. I have attended a public lecture where Burris discussed his practice and what happens at intake when his staff gets into these stories. It would be a great lecture for your students to hear. Most of the time there is nothing to be done in the nature of a civil rights claim.

    Anyway, if you want to help the kiddies you might want to run that Cris Rock video (in post #14) and use that as a starting point for discussion – then bring on the professionals right and left to hear what goes on in the streets and how the “rights” actually play out in practice. Then, have the kids read aloud the CA Penal Code, The Health & Safety Code, and selections from the 29 State Code books regulating our behavior. The trouble seems to begin with students having no clue at all what is prohibited conduct and the various penalties for being caught in violation.

    To the extent your school intends to teach this kind of material (tell little DeShawn or Jose what “thier rights” are in upcoming conflicts with the law) – have you nitified the parents and obtained their input and permission to do this? The parents may have some problems with you lecturing in this area and they having to clean up the mess when keeping it real goes wrong. They may prefer their kids being taught to stay out of trouble, not to fight the law. Because typically the law wins.

  • Ex-Oakland staff

    After burning out from a nine year teaching stint in OUSD I applaud Mr. Bustamente for his commitment but also urge him to consider whether his approach is sustainable. Mr. Bustamente has taken it upon himself, as many of us have done, to be a social worker as well as a teacher because the the social worker tasks have to be done and no one else is doing them. But he’s doing two jobs and is getting paid for one.

    If I had to do it again, I would focus my energy on the academics and let the social work slide. One teacher can’t make up for all the socio-economic deficits presented by 150 students each year – he doesn’t have the training, time, institutional or social support to make lasting changes. He does have the training, time and institutional support to make some academic changes in his students and he should do what he can to advance them towards proficiency each year as best he can in the face of whatever deficits his students present.

  • Mr. A

    That attitude by Ex-Oakland staff is harmful for kids in Oakland and is holding them down.

    Yes, it is harder to teach in an urban district like Oakland than in a wealthier district because more students come to us with greater needs.

    That is why we need energetic, solution-oriented people like Bustamante who are willing to go the extra mile meet the students needs.

    Yes, Ex-Oakland, this approach is currently not sustainable for every teacher. Those people need to leave the district and leave now. For the rest of us, let’s keep moving forward. Instead of complaining about what can’t be done, let’s keep on working towards finding solutions, including moving towards sustainability.

  • Stakeholder

    This is clearly written from the perspective of a caring, passionate teacher, albeit misguidedly from atop a soapbox.

    I don’t believe that the vast majority of teachers in Oakland need a sixth-year teacher preaching about the power of listening to and/or encouraging our students. This sounds like OUSD company line, “it’s for the kids” or “teacher effectiveness is the solution.”

    Who are these teachers working from 7:45 to 3:15? Where are they? Do they not work at home? Or elsewhere? Do many not have families and such responsibilities? Need they be under Mr. Bustamante’s supervision to be considered “working”? This is no doubt the talk of a budding administrator. There is a systematic flaw with the construct of the school day, but it has nothing to do with teachers choosing to “work” within the contractual duty day.

    And as far Castlemont is concerned, Castlemont Business and Information Technology School has AP US History, AP Spanish, and AP Calculus ALL within the duty day. Go ahead and martyrize EOSA teachers offering AP English before the school day. But it’s disingenuous to corroborate these administrators’ propaganda that such teacher sacrifice is the only way to effectively educate our students.

  • joeshmoe

    Typical Oakland education. Urban Promise has a mural depicting students in steroetypical street clothes pumping fists and rfer to themselves as Warriors. Well Mr. Bustamante, Warioirs fight, and in Oakland they are being taught by america hating college students and ex-hippies to fight the governmental systems. Guess who their warriors are?

    Its tupical inner city reactionary jargon and play. Teachers come when they are young….fight to save kids…live in the ghettos…..stay for some time….have their own chidren….get the hell out!

    And the Warriors stay to fight the system they have been trained to question and fight. Prison and cemetaries full. Lots more romm and money to made off of them too.

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions Katy…

    Can you answer how many of those East oakland School of the Arts kids PASS the AP exam? OUSD seems reluctant to say what ther passing rates are by ethnicity…why?

    I can show kids TV shows about being lawyers…will that help them pass the bar?

    OUSD full of great intentions and avid destruction!

  • J.R.

    This sounds like OUSD company line, “it’s for the kids” or “teacher effectiveness is the solution.”

    For the past three decades the NEA and CTA have both pleaded for more funding(while teachers salaries increased, and parents began to cover costs of classroom supplies,field trips etc)and the mantra of the unions has always been “it’s for the kids”, and yet a large chunk of money does not go anywhere near the classroom.The grad rates and levels of proficiencies have dropped(on the whole)while wages and benefits have increased. This is just a little contradictory,and backwards don’t you think?

  • J.R.

    Unions have always been and are masters of propaganda. We’ve got no results but show us the money,perks and job security anyway because we deserve it for just being there and breathing. That’s entitlement and it will stop.

  • Another Teacher

    I hope that what it takes to have kids succeed can be sustainable for teachers who are in it for the long haul, and have other priorities as well, such as say motherhood. I am a young teacher in my 3rd year, and while my day at school is much longer than a 7:45-3:15, doing what I perceive as needed “above and beyond,” I’m not sure that it’s sustainable.

    Katy, this is only tangentially related, but I wonder if you might profile a teacher who is a mother with young children. I have the sense that in my suburban school, there were a fair number of teacher/mothers. But as a young teacher in OUSD, who wants to teach as a life-career, I am trying to figure out how I’ll manage to do this work as fully when I have kids. And I’m not sure how you’d do this, but if you could also offer some statistics on how common this is (breaking down, by elementary, middle and high school, as well as distinguishing between hill and flatland schools). I know of many who move into a TSA or coaching role, or move into admin, or leave altogether.

  • Teacher

    Another Teacher — You raise an interesting set of questions. There is not one teacher at my high school who is a mom with schoolage children. One of our best teachers is thinking of starting a family — and leaving her job as a teacher (if the pink slips don’t get her first!)I know I wouldn’t be able to handle both jobs.

    Ironically, our school is supposed to merge with two others and take on a sustainability theme. Maybe we need to work on making teaching in an impoverished neighborhood a sustainable career first.

  • Ms. J.

    I am interested by this set of questions as well, and am a mother with young children who feels very fortunate to have the flexibility of the teacher’s hours. It seems to me that teaching has been one of the best jobs for a person who wishes to raise a family and have work-life balance. As a larger issue is a society whose mantra is growth, growth, growth (the ideology of the cancer cell, someone pointed out)a sustainable one? Lots of times when folks complain that teachers aren’t paid enough the feeling that I have is that other people are paid too much, and when people say teachers don’t work enough I feel that other people are compelled to work too much.

    But to the separate point–if the job cannot be done within the time and energy bounds for which the worker is contracted, there is something wrong, I agree, and we don’t do anyone–fellow teachers, future teachers, even children–favors by making ourselves martyrs and rendering the profession even less sustainable and resistant to burn out.

  • Ms. J.

    Not sure where this fits in but thought readers would be interested in this recent article–what it takes to help kids succeed on standardized tests–where we are headed:


  • J.R.

    Any school, charter or traditional that does not perform or cheats should face consequences(this LA charter should have been revoked). In traditional schools we have floundered for decades(with some exceptions) without doing anything but going through the motions and collecting pay checks. This testing mania is wrong-headed, but just looking at proficiency rates anyone can tell that there is a big problem here. Why do we have 40-50% proficiency when the poverty rate is 15-25%(where is the excuse for that?)Poverty is not the only explanation for academic mediocrity, it goes much further than that.

  • J.R.
  • Ms. McLaughlin

    Ms. J, that is really sickening.

    “In the end, no one was fired, not even John Allen, the founder and executive director who orchestrated the cheating, then denied it had taken place until confronted with overwhelming evidence, according to district documents and officials.” What the hell?

    I’m proud (and equally sickened) to recall a charter school in Oakland that was abruptly shut down several years ago for similar crimes against the education system AND against the children, who (the sickening part) had the rug pulled out from under them by an unscrupulous school director. These kids scrambled to enroll in new schools toward the end of the summer, some in their senior year, and all of them surely disheartened at having to make such major adjustments due to the shady shenanigans of again, one administrator. Fortunately, the teachers at the school blew the whistle on the guy, who was also changing students’ grades on the sly to inflate his college admissions numbers.

    I’m also proud to say that in the schools where I’ve helped issue the STAR exams, the care taken to PREVENT cheating would rival the care taken to sterilize instruments before surgery. I don’t think the misguided lenience granted the Los Angeles school would ever happen here, and that’s a blessing.

    That said, I wish the STAR tests would go away, and I’ve written Governor Brown and Barbara Lee explaining why. We’re testing our children too much, and at the high school level, students who are already taking the CAHSEE, the SAT’s, the ACT’s, and the AP exams tend to see the STAR tests as something of an extraneous joke. Many of the kids simply don’t take the STAR tests seriously because there are no negative consequence whatsoever, for them, when they do poorly on the things. And yet every year, California spends millions of dollars and days of learning time forcing our students to sit down with their #2 pencils and do yet another exercise in bubbling. Our testing routine could easily be streamlined…well, maybe not easily, but it’s long past time that our whole state testing routine be reexamined.

    And JR, all due respect, who’s this “we”? I’ve known very few teachers who’d ever be content to go through the motions just to get the paycheck. In my experience, that kind of foundering/floundering is the exception, not the norm.

    Speaking of which (the norm, or actually the Gold Standard), Ms. Murphy, how about profiling Mr. Danning’s class?

    Finally, I’ve had wonderful experiences with the Oakland police, and I surely couldn’t do their difficult job. And while this is totally off-topic on a blog about the Oakland schools, I’m sure some of us have been following the situation in Wisconsin, so I wanted to share this speech given by one of the many officers who marched into the state capitol building in Madison on Friday night, NOT to clear out the demonstrators as they were instructed, but to spend the night in solidarity WITH them. This is good, good stuff, and perhaps worth sharing with some of our soon-to-be citizens:


  • http://www.WriterCoachConnection.org Karen Larson

    While I commend Mr. Bustamante and all of the teachers like him who are going above and beyond their role as a classroom teacher, they can’t do this alone! We need to mobilize the community around our schools to support all the students and their hardworking teachers. That includes making sure that kids have enough to eat, healthcare, a calm environment to study — and sleep! It is a huge challenge and the teachers can’t do it alone.

    Caring adults can be — and are — involved in making a difference with the students one at a time. I coordinate close to 80 volunteer WritingCoaches who come in to Media Academy & Mandela High School on the Fremont High campus and work with almost 200 9th and 10th graders on their writing in their English classes. We meet with each student about 10 – 12 times during the school year. It is a very small thing when compared with the challenges that face these students, but it is something. And it is something we see reflected in the eyes of the students when we work with them in our one-on-one coaching conferences.

    It’s time for everyone to step forward and do something. These students are all part of the future of California and they, and the teachers, deserve our support. If you want to find out how to become involved with the Oakland schools, visit http://www.oaklandschoolvolunteers.org/mentor to see volunteer opportunities.

    Karen Larson

  • http://www.eastbayconservative.com The Boss

    I just clicked on the link J.R. posted. Shocking. Take a look at:




    Oakland Unified
    Enrollment by Ethnicity – 1999-00
    African American – 26,650 – 48.4%

    Oakland Unified
    Students by Ethnicity – 2009-10
    Black or African American – 15,162 – 32.5%

    That’s not a misprint. What accounts for this? Gentrification? Charters? Something else?

    Also, to the original author: Not to throw a wet blanket over you, but you do know it’s a crime to enter the United States illegally, right?

  • http://www.eastbayconservative.com The Boss

    Here’s a handy dandy chart by ethnicity:


    Every year white kids tick up and black kids tick down. What’s going on here?

  • Randall Bustamante

    I would just like to comment that there are some seriously jaded people posting on here.
    A colleague of mine who is also a professor at a local university said “Public education is on life support.” I mention this because I do believe that our system is unsustainable. The support teachers have is not enough.
    In Oakland alone, teacher turnover was one in three prior to the economic downturn. Now I believe it is about one in five. Either way, this points to a serious problem of sustainability for our district. With teacher pay being the lowest in the county and the district’s refusal to hand down the state’s Cost of Living Adjustment for the past seven years, teachers are burning out or deciding to leave the district. Recently, our principal said “it’s bad around the district. Class sizes will have to increase.” It’s difficult to convince a teacher to stay when the working conditions and compensation are so poor. Researchers have pointed out that a large factor in teacher burnout is our burdensome and underfunded educational system.
    To deal with the inequity, our system must change. I went into education in Oakland knowing that students needed a teacher who would do more than was described. I alone can’t create systemic change, but I’m OK with that. One student at a time, one class at a time, I’ll do what I can. I have the help of UC Berkeley volunteers. I have mentors/tutors from project SOAR assisting in my classroom. And yet, I could use dozens more adults to really help students become college ready in every sense of the idea. My aforementioned colleague has dozens of college students and graduates mentoring his class to help them both socially and academically. In a marginalized neighborhood such as ours, we need more support than the average district. But if we wait for the system to change, thousands of students will not have a chance at college or a better life. It’s a moral issue for some teachers. Otherwise, if you work here, you have to turn a blind eye to some serious matters that our students face. I personally don’t know how to do this, that’s why I don’t.
    I agree with Karen. We need social workers, mentors, volunteers and more to help address the needs of our youth. I encourage people who want to make a difference to volunteer (consistently) in a classroom. Those extra adults can make a huge impact because it takes the burden off the teachers’ shoulders and allows for some of the individual attention that some students crave.
    Bottom line, the system is broken and it’s not going to change anytime soon. Complaining gets us nowhere we haven’t been before. Solutions and risk-taking however are the only ways I see us making a significant impact in communities like ours.

  • Randall Bustamante

    Maybe that law needs to change. Read about the Dream Act. If you’re Ok with punishing youth for their parents’ decisions, then we obviously disagree.

    Also, learn about how Germany dealt with mass undocumented immigration from Spain. They didn’t build a fence and jail the immigrants. Instead they helped Spain’s economy and made it sustainable for workers to stay in their home country where they would prefer to live.

    Also, see the UCLA study on the benefit of legalizing undocumented immigrants.


  • Gordon Danning

    Mr. Bustamante:

    Do you have a source for info re: the German policy re: Spanish immigrants? I assume that was quite a few years back

  • http://www.eastbayconservative.com The Boss

    RB –

    Sure, maybe it should be changed. Same goes for a lot of laws out there. I personally think the rules permitting public employee unions should be repealed. And, I think labor unions should lose their anti-trust exemption.

    But that doesn’t mean I would tell my kids, or someone else’s kids, to break the law. I think that’s the issue a lot of people on here have with you. How’s about starting out with the presumption that kids should follow the law, and then work on the nuances and civil disobedience lessons at the college level, once we’re sure the kids won’t wind up in jail.

  • http://www.eastbayconservative.com The Boss

    2 more points for RB:

    1. The problem with legalizing the undocumented is it encourages more to come. I actually don’t have any problem with the undocumented. I speak Spanish fluently, and I often hire them with great success. They work hard and have always treated me well. No, the problem is not the undocumented but the social welfare programs and the taxes that must be confiscated in order to support them.

    2. Public education isn’t on “life support” any more than any other government program. Take a look at Piedmont, Orinda, Lafayette, Palo Alto, etc. Oakland public education has lots of problems because we have terrible demographics. But, things are improving, partly because of gentrification and partly because of widespread cheating on the standardized tests.

    I’m afraid your concepts of social mobility have no actual correspondence to the real world. People like you don’t “help” the downtrodden. You’re just filling a slot. The thing that helps them is living in a society ruled by laws. That’s why economic mobility in the US has historically been so high. The real threat to these immigrants is liberal policies which limit freedom and decrease economic mobility. So, you actually are the problem.

  • Hot r

    Nice job Boss: Make sure to tell a committed teacher who sees burnout all around him but who continues to swim upstream to help his kid a that the is “just filling a slot.”. What he is doing is saving one kid at a time that just might make a difference in your life one day, and even if he doesn’t we need to support his effort. Laws will never change without people who fight for what’s right like RB.

  • http://www.eastbayconservative.com The Boss

    “Saving” a kid? Please.

    Teachers matter, but not in the way you think. Kids need to be offered the opportunity to learn, and that’s the teacher’s job.

    Teachers can not and will not ever successfully replace parents.

    Hey – how come no one responded to my link with Oakland’s demographic data?

  • Nextset

    Boss is right, of course.

    Mr Bustamante seems to be using his position to impose his rad-lib worldview on kids and have them act out his “fight the man” fantasies. Which helps gets them killed and imprisoned. It’s not as if he’s also teaching them what the criminal laws are. He’s teaching a population (relatively) likely to have violations of sex/drugs-alcohol/violence laws to confront and non-comply with authority – when anyone can see that combination is likely to result in more aggressive & successful prosecution of them.

    But maybe he believes all people are created equal?

    His job is teaching reading, writing, and math, etc. He’s not a legal studies instructor and “social justice” (code word for “fight the man”) is not a subject of instruction in the public school. They teach it anyway because of their zeal for insurrection.

    This is the kind of garbage that good families won’t tolerate in their schools in, say, Danville, Piedmont and Orinda.

    It’s too bad the black and brown kids have to go to these rotten schools and white/jewish folks don’t. But I suppose that’s life. You don’t see too many people complaining.

    He’s not saving anybody. He’s greasing the skids on their downfall. He’s doing the opposite of what the Catholic Nuns did when they operated St. Columbas in the flats of Oakland. And it has the opposite effect.

    Does Mr. Bustamante mean well? Not in my book. He’s young but he’s old enough to know better. He wrote this thread because he revels in teaching “fight the man”. He wants everyone to know what he’s doing so they can admire him for it. He certainly doesn’t care what my generation thinks about the outcome of his activity. It would be interesting to know more of his background to see where the anti-authority comes from. But we can guess. And he’s not alone ion the Oakland Public Schools thinking like this.

    This is why communists were once barred from teaching in the state. That was good policy.

  • Hot r

    Nextset, although I am more of a realist than I used to be, and I support your right to spout on, was it really necessary to go the whole “communist” route Mr. Red Scare? those schools you mentioned have high test scores because those kids are from college educated parents. don’t kid yourself. It’s not the schools, it’s the parents. Check out The ratings of high schools around here. find the ones which are 9’s and 10’s when compared to similarly situated schools (based on school population). That is where good teaching is going on. Bustamante is meeting the students where they are like every good educator.

    And Boss – what you don’t know about teaching is a lot… didn’t any teacher ever inspire you or did they just give you an opportunity to learn? Please don’t assume all kids are self starters with plenty of parental support, shelves full of books, health care and a bag lunch packed every day. I doubt Mr. Bustamante has even one of those.

  • Lucha

    This is very inspiring Mr. Bustamante! I think you remind us that we need to strive to understand our students’ life experiences in context in order to connect with them and create relevant learning experiences. To turn a blind eye and not validate our student’s experience is unfortunate and a part of why so many students lack connection to their school and are not retained. Among all the drama and challenges in education, it’s nice to see teachers like you.

  • livegreen

    Thanks for the link Boss. Apparently Latinos r replacing African Americans as the new student body that needs to b saved. It was a lot easier to do that when there were more jobs for those who were coming here for blue collar work. Now those at the bottom are undercutting each other for a smaller and smaller part of the pie, while there #s still increase and half the country slowly slips into 3rd world status. (With portions of the middle class joining them, but too slow to take notice. Until somebody’s in the quicksand of the hour glass, just before they get sucked through the hole).

    Referring to RB’s comments about faulting children for the mistakes of their parents, it’s true that we should not do that. On the other hand neither can we make up for all those mistakes, nor can we give them a pass when they do wrong themselves.

    Teachers and volunteers who care can pitch in as best they can, and that will help a portion. But very rarely if there’s not involved parents at home. The ones who are not we need to hold accountable. I’m not as idealistic as R.B., but I do agree in volunteering and participating (not just sharing ideas).

    We all should chip in the best we can, and as we know how. Whatever side of the issue you’re on, how are you helping a local school and student?