Monday, August 4, 2014

An Ode to Oakland

This will likely be my last blog post on this site...(I plan to start a new one eventually, filled with future Kindergarten shenanigans.) But for now, a week before I officially become a Kindergarten teacher, I'd like to reflect on my time in Oakland.
"You taught in OAKLAND?! Why would you do that?" Because it is a beautiful, diverse, culturally rich mecca of progressive dialogue, brilliant activists, and most importantly, incredible children. I won't pretend that I felt successful in the classroom there...I felt like a hamster of sorts, spinning in a wheel, going in circles, then running out and making progress, and moving on to the next obstacle. Being a new teacher in Oakland, not being FROM Oakland or the community I taught in, was most definitely the most difficult experience I have undertaken in my privileged life. I felt like a failure far more than I felt like I was serving my students how they deserved to be served; I worried constantly that I was doing more harm than good, I lost confidence in myself and beat myself up about things that, looking back, were important but could have improved greatly if only I'd been more kind to myself.
But today, I am choosing to only reflect on the good things (and oh, there are SO many.) There was George's smirk and snarky comments, Y's delight at the jumping apps on the classroom Macbooks when they needed to be updated, the quiet calm of Cozy Reading Time with those beloved beanie babies, without fail, every morning. There was the excitement of introducing a new workstation, the "thank you"s chirped in unison when the paper went out of range of the document camera and a student nudged it back into place so everyone could see. There was the unparalleled joy that was a new Elephant and Piggie book added to the classroom library. There was cutting edge professional development, retreats dedicated to anti-racism and equitable leadership.
There were my colleagues. Reflecting on the horrible inequities our students and families faced, and discussing at length in what ways we were contributing to these inequities, and what we could do to confront our own biases and practices that were potentially holding our students back. There was wandering the halls at 6 PM, hoping to run into someone who was still inevitably at school, just to be around a comforting presence and talk more about how to engage students in a particular Math lesson, how to translate a high-level vocabulary Spanish word, or just to lay in someone's classroom library and wistfully discuss how wonderful a cold beer would be just right then. There were routine hellos in the morning, chocolate sharing and cry-fests at lunch because of some of the horrible atrocities happening to our students' families, about the state of education, about our own tragedies, and yes, for me, sometimes about student behavior (and my reaction to said behavior). (Okay, so these are not-so-good things...but the close relationships that resulted are certainly beautiful.)
There were Lake Merritt walks and runs, recognizing other Oakland educators all over the place, seeing students at the Mexican restaurant near school, at the taco truck, at the Pho place around the corner from our apartment.
Oakland and my school there taught me that teachers and educators are actually some of the most intelligent and reflective people I've ever met or been around. I found a placed where I thrived personally, but not necessarily professionally...but gained so much knowledge, insight, and compassion for the world and people at large. In a place that most people consider to be "dangerous," "shady," and worst of all "ghetto..." I found quite the opposite...I found beauty, brilliance, vibrance...I found home.
I am excited for my new adventure into Kindergarten in what will undeniably be an incredible experience in a rural community amongst fabulous educators and fabulous families. I will give my all to learn, to gain confidence, to serve these children and families to the very best of my ability... but someday, be it 5, 10, 20, even 30 years, I hope these experiences will make me a stronger candidate to go back to my home...back to Fruitvale. Back to Oakland.

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