Amidst all of the "no"s I spew out to my students, the barking that escapes me when a student blurts out, and the emphatic, Mom-like shaking of my head as I stare down a child as they roll across the floor, you would think I hated my job and these kids. In actuality, they are my companions, my advocates, and my greatest supporters. I get so angry when they bicker with one another or taunt each other, but that happens in any family. When I see the way my students stick up for one another or laugh together, it's all I can do to keep myself from getting emotional. Since becoming a teacher, I've turned to mush. I used to go years without crying at times, now I'm lucky if it's days. For the most part, I'm crying because of a touching commercial (that one with the dad e-mailing his beautiful daughter as she grows up gets me EVERY SINGLE TIME) or because one of my students did something incredibly kind or smart. I know teachers are not supposed to consider their students their friends, but we spend so much time together it's hard not to see them as my little, miniature sized friends. These little mini friends, however, make me grateful for the adult friends in my life who I can share a beer with and slip away from the world of tattling, peeing pants, and twhere "choice time" is more valuable than gold.
I will wholeheartedly miss my students this break. I gave them all a hug and an "I love you" before we left today. I hope their breaks are filled with safety and warmth, rather than the violence that has been inundating this neighborhood in the past weeks.
This job is enlightening, rich with love, and filled with joy, but sometimes it is downright heartbreaking. A student at our school's father was stabbed to death on Thanksgiving, some first graders were shot at with their families in the midst of a gang brawl near their apartments, and students have been hiding in hallways at home when armed robberies are occurring below them. Teaching in Oakland in some ways is perhaps not so different from teaching in the suburbs (Bieber fever resides everywhere, I'm convinced), with students donning Disney Channel backpacks, apparel, and quoting iCarly, and in some ways it is NOTHING like where I went to school. 97% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch, many of their families are newcomers to this country or this state, a grand majority speaking a language other than English at home. There is so much vibrance and culture at this beautiful school and in this beautiful community--I am proud to work with wonderful families and wonderful students. However, this community is poor, and with poverty comes violence. I am somewhere between an outsider and an insider--I come to this place every day, then retreat the 4 exits west to my home where crime is significantly lower and I have a studio apartment for myself probably bigger than what ost of my students are experiencing. While this world is a beautiful place, it is not equitable in the slightest. I am privileged in so many ways, and I am so grateful I get to spend my days here, with these beautiful children and these beautiful families who allow me to teach, even though I am not a native member of their community or their experience. I am overwhelmed with the sense of purpose I have in this work, and while I am still stumbling and, at times, extraodinarily impatient with these mini friends of mine, I am amazed that this dream is what I get to do.