It is this time of year that I, like many others I'm sure, am reminded of why I teach. The summer months are spent relaxing, being thoughtful and purposeful about the school year to come, and letting go of the remnants of what may have been or the moments gone wrong from last year. Little by little, I feel more rejuvenated and ready to start my year, especially now that we have begun PD and my mind has shifted from wondering what day of the week it is (okay, not really, since I was still teaching summer school) to meeting the fantastic new staff members at our school, lamenting the absence of those who had such a profound effect on our community, all while trying to carry on the vision of our unique little charter-hybrid-district school in the heart of East Oakland.
For the last few weeks I have been in and out of my classroom, laminating and cutting, paying attention to tiny nuances and making sure the environment is cheery yet calming, color-coordinated, and appealing to first graders. I have scoured pinterest, in awe of uber-organized spaces, taking ideas that seem do-able, and attempting to create a more functional and appealing space for my students. But today I am reminded of big-picture, beyond the details, of why I'm here, and what it means to be at a teacher at this time in Oakland, California. Specifically, in the flatlands of Oakland. I think of the sentiment of so many who give me a disgruntled look when I say I work in Oakland. "You work THERE?! I wouldn't even DRIVE there!" I think of the students who have been so historically under-served and essentially forgotten. I am reminded of a deeper purpose that is sometimes hard to come back to on days when students are hiding under desks or refusing to listen because they haven't had enough sleep or enough to eat (and yes, often because they are six years old). Being reminded of this purpose, thinking of the immense struggle of schools and education in this city, and of the inequities that exist between the flatlands and the hills schools was emotional and intense. I spent the nearly the whole day swallowing the ball in my throat, feeling overwhelmed by how vast the troubles with education are in this country, and overcome by the incredible changes the families in our community have been in proactively creating the school I am honored and privileged to work at.
It is a large undertaking to continue on a school that was birthed by some who have moved on...and to make sure its vision is kept up, all while moving into a new version of something special..and not sure exactly what that will end up looking like. I once thought teachers were miracle-makers, life-savers... not to underestimate what we do, but it takes a village and it takes a functional district/charter/administration and a cohesive team and support to even begin to make change. I took all these things for granted growing up in a middle-class, suburban neighborhood with a public school with veteran teachers and a near-perfect "grade" on greatschools. I am able to teach because of the purposeful choices my parents made, the unearned privilege on my part by speaking English and being born where I was...the privilege of literacy that every single child DESERVES and NEEDS. I once wanted to teach simply because I loved children...the reasons I teach are so much more complicated than simply that. (Of course that is the heart of this profession...the desire to work and inspire youth, but with that so many things including and not limited to combating racism, sexism, homophobia, genderism, and inspiring lifelong learning to lead successful, happy, DESERVED lives). WHEW. Thinking about it all is so exhausting and I'm getting overwhelmed...
So, I will end with the details..the progress of my classroom thus far. It's all very bare-bones still, I'm playing with the layout of the table groups...but this is what I've got.
I'll leave you with the words of our vision statement...
We stand on the shoulders
of those who came before us
as we grow into leaders
who are passionate and care
about making our world better.
We are equipped with skills and knowledge;
filled with curiosity,
and we know that even when
we face challenges,
WE WILL ACHIEVE.