Teaching is not always academics. With the kids we serve and the community we work in, it's life. It's the choices that we make as teachers that affect every single part of how these young people develop and who they become.
Life beyond these four walls.
"If there was a career that I thought I would have, it would not have been teaching. I hated teachers. Teachers talk about when they were kids, they would play school with their brothers and sisters, and that wasn't what I wanted. I kind of wanted to be on the block, and live fast -- like what I saw.
I was a horrible student. I sucked at school, and everything about me was difficult. Just walking in the door of a classroom, it felt like, 'Get out, we don't want you here.'
I had decided against college. I knew I was smart, don't get me wrong, but I wasn't book smart. But, when I was 30 and working at AT&T, I had a manager who told me I needed to go back to school. She gave me a dictionary, a thesaurus, and some books, and she said, 'Read these books. Wherever there's a word you don't know, underline it and look it up.' And it turned out, I didn't know very many words. The whole book was highlighted. But she gave me another book and another book, and pretty soon she started putting college applications on my desk.
So I went back to junior college. I decided I should take an English class, and I got an A. And I didn't get A's, just so we're all clear. Eventually, I got my bachelor's degree and then my master's. Halfway through my program, I decided I would be a teacher. I would be the best teacher in the whole world. I walked the stage on a Saturday, and I just knew it was the next step. And on Monday, I walked up to my boss and said, 'I quit. I'm supposed to be a teacher.' By August, I was in the classroom, and it was everything I thought it would be."
The same roots.
"When people say it's hard for first-year teachers, that wasn't my experience. For me, it was full-circle. I happened to be in classrooms with kids who were just like me, who mirrored my experience growing up. These little people in the classroom, they got it.
My mom was murdered when I was 18; she was shot in Oakland, a couple blocks from Madison Park. I just remember hearing my scream, but it didn't feel like mine.
What I'm able to share with the kids is that, even with all of the drugs, violence, jail, everything, there's another whole world outside of our block. I can teach them what they need to know. All they have to do is take their genius, everything that they own and the stuff that's happening to them, and shape it in a new way. I want them to see that I didn't quit, that I've used what happened to me as a springboard for what I want to do now. I'm heartbroken still, but it's like a battery -- it drives me.
My gift in education is to teach my kids to be activists. I want them to understand that life owes you nothing, but you can take it all. There's no part of this world that is obligated to give you anything, but it could be yours if you make the choice.
For the most part, the media doesn't want to tell the truth about the magic that happens at Madison. They don't want to talk about the genius in these little people and what they mean to the future of this world. They don't want to have real conversations about the teachers who believe in them. People judge us because our kids aren't performing well. But if you knew what they went through and how strong they are, and if you saw how these teachers and these principals sacrifice for these kids, you'd know that Oakland is the best school district. I'll never work anywhere else."
Tell your story.
"Teaching is not always academics. Not here, in Oakland, with the kids we serve and the community we work in. It's life. It's the choices that we make as teachers that affect every single part of how these young people develop and who they become. Those kids need teachers who have been there. Kids are honest with themselves when given the opportunity to really think about who they are and what they need.
The work that we do in class and the direction that we take as learners in our space is tied to our needs. I think that every student needs the freedom of choice, so I create a choice menu for them. They get to make the decisions. I like to let them shape what direction we go in. In August, the walls are bare, and now, they're covered in student work, who they are, and what they've developed this space to be.
Being able to explain your thinking by reading and writing is so important, so the conversation and the work we've focused on all year has been around 'here's my thinking.' Everything that good readers and writers do is tied to how they think and what they believe. They need to read well, need to question, use complex texts and, navigate the shift to the common core. But the thing that is often left out is that this needs to be applied to the real world.
They struggled to write five paragraphs in the beginning of the year, and now I have to keep them from writing ten paragraphs! We had a test a couple of weeks ago, and I had to limit it to three paragraphs. And they were like, 'Three? I got more ideas than three!' This all matters to them. This is real work, and this is what you do in real life. You have to tell the world your story."