housing & feelings

I love teaching. Here are some things I love about teaching:

I love finding and developing texts and activities that are challenging, relevant, and meaningful.

I love getting to know my students — their talents, challenges, sense of humor, quirks, joys, sadnesses, hopes.

I love thinking, as I develop my lessons, about how all of them respond, and adjusting my teaching to pull as many of them in as I can.

I love hearing their interpretations of the literature we read, hearing the connections they make between historical events as we study the past.

I even love grading, when I have the time to do it thoughtfully — it’s a chance to hear their thinking, see their growth, evaluate the effectiveness of my own teaching, and plan intelligently for the future.

I love developing curriculum with my team and co-teacher; they are an unbelievably smart and compassionate group of people.

I love running into students from previous years in the hallway and hearing how their lives are going, what they’re learning, what they’ve accomplished.

But there are many things about being a teacher that are stressful and hard and overwhelming. Things that it seems like we could fix as a society (and a school district), if we really wanted to.

A few weeks ago, an email thread at my school site snowballed. An administrator admonished the staff for not turning in their grades on time and then complained (to the entire staff) that the late grades would cause her to work on the weekend, which she did not want to do because it was “not fair to [her] family or to [her].”

I don’t think I’ve been more insulted by an administrator; that email thread happened to fall after I’d spent two weekends straight grading (an average of 11 hours each weekend). A teacher who wrote back gently reminding the administrator that most teachers work every weekend was given a formal letter of reprimand by the administrative team.

I feel valued by my students and their parents; I feel valued by my grade-level team and my department leads. But after email threads like the one I just described, it is clear that I am not valued; my work does not hold value for my administrative team.

And on the second of every month, after rent has been paid, I don’t feel valued by my district.

Last Friday our school bulletin included a blurb from the central office about a partnership with Roomily, a housing website that connects users who have a spare room with community members who cannot afford rent. The blurb is unclear; it notes that “OUSD is providing faculty and staff with resources that may help address [housing] hardship,” but a search of “housing” on the OUSD website returned only a PDF of a measure proposal that was vetoed. The description of Roomily leaves unclear if the hope is teachers with homes will sign up to house others, or if the intent is to find housing for teachers in need (or both?).

I believe in living in the community where I teach. I believe in being a part of the community where I teach because children don’t leave behind their homes and neighborhoods when they come into the classroom. Living in Oakland makes me a better teacher not just because I spend less energy commuting, but because students know I am in this with them.

I will never be able to afford a home in Oakland. My partner also works for a school, and even together we will never be able to afford a home in Oakland. We cannot even afford to rent a house together (we both lucked into below-market rents in spaces too small for both of us).

So when I read the blurb about Roomily, I felt very angry. Yes, the housing crisis in the Bay Area is bigger than OUSD. But — the solution to attracting and retaining teachers is not to find them rooms to rent in someone else’s house. Professionals (and teachers are professionals) do not want to rent a room in someone else’s house for their foreseeable future. To suggest that teachers should have to pay for being a teacher by being a perpetual roommate is insulting. It is insulting to the hard work teachers do and insulting the the children and families who rely on schools to provide an education and a path towards their dreams.

At a district-directed department meeting last month, the Humanities department looked at grade distributions by race. It was a sobering data set. Too many of our Black and Brown children are not flourishing; in fact, the data clearly shows that our school is failing these students. The reasons for this are complex, and they tie into the housing crisis described above.

(I’m sure you’ve read the studies; I’m sure you know that having a Black teacher for even one year can improve Black student outcomes for multiple years, including dramatically reducing their likelihood of dropping out; I’m sure you know that having race-matched teachers can reduce absences and suspensions. I’m sure you’ve looked at the teacher demographics of our district, which do not represent our students.

I’m sure you’ve done the math and the research and you see: when students of color don’t have culturally responsive teachers of color to act as role models, they’re less likely to go to college; because there are fewer college graduates of color, there are fewer candidates to come back and become teachers; because many college graduates of color feel financially responsible to their communities, they choose not to become teachers because they know teaching is not a ticket out of poverty.)

What recent college-graduate would choose to come and work here when the district is suggesting we find housing as someone’s perpetual roommate?

All of this is to say: serving the students of Oakland requires valuing and investing in the teachers of Oakland.

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