Earlier this evening I returned from an event in San Francisco raising funds for Donors Choose.
At this event I had the opportunity to speak with a charming young teacher who teaches 3rd grade in an elementary school in East Oakland.
Here are some things I learned:
(1) In only her 7th year as a teacher, she's the most senior teacher at the school. They have extremely high teacher turnover. Anyone who is there who is older than her was transferred there because they had a problem at a different school. She feels it took five years for the community to accept her. And principal turnover has been high too, though the current one evidently looks like she'll stick. The custodian is utterly dedicated to the school and the kids.
(2) There are many parents who do everything they can to support the school, including showing up to volunteer. Some parents help despite really awful experience with the school system from when they were in it -- which in some cases was not long ago. Some adults help despite a 7th grade education. Evidently a community organization has organized and TRAINED volunteers to help with literacy tutoring and things like that.
(3) The teacher takes a poll at the beginning of the year asking her third graders, 'how many of you have been told that you're just bad"? She relays that this can be up to 90% of the kids. It was probably 90% of their parents, too.
(4) Similarly, evidently the kids have the perception that somehow they're not allowed to go to college. (She has planned a field trip to picnic at UC Berkeley just to include a college in the list of places that are familiar to her students.) She tells her kids that if they want to go to college when they get older, they should come back and ask her for help. They generally don't know anyone who has ever been.
(5) As a beginning teacher, she has had to deal with such trauma as a student who came to school and told her, shaking, that his dad was stabbed the night before. "What happened?" "He died." She says that they do have a counselor now, but they didn't at the time.
(6) She's sure that most of the kids in her class have witnessed a shooting. One child saw her father shot in the face. Nevertheless, when a child suffers the others generally want to write a card or otherwise support him or her and don't feel okay until they express their empathy. After the hurricane they brought in 17 cents, 25 cents for her to send to "the hurricane people."
(7) For one child who had problems controlling his anger, she taught him the word "frustrated." It helped; he was able at least to name how he felt (loudly!). Another child articulated to her that he was trying to be good, naming another kid in class who he was trying to act like; but said that the other child had parents at home to teach him how to be good, whereas his mom was in her program (rehab) and his grandma didn't know how to teach him that.
(8) An adult came to school threatening with a gun. The school went into lockdown. They called the police. But the police didn't come. When the teacher expressed "displeasure" about this to the parents, they thought she was naive -- evidently the police never come. What does it say when a community's police don't come to protect young children at school?
These are her projects on Donors Choose