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After spending Day One on the picket line with students, parents and colleagues at our school, I offer you the perspective of one Oakland teacher.
I teach in a wonderful diverse public elementary school about half a mile from the Oakland Coliseum.
Last year our small school lost 6 of our 12 classroom teachers. This kind of turnover means more turmoil for our kids, families and staff even when strong new colleagues join our faculty. And it means that students in other districts benefit from all of the growth and development teachers did in Oakland. It’s a crippling cycle. And this is happening all over Oakland, with 1 in 5 teachers leaving each year.
We shouldn’t have to choose to make $10,000 less just to stay in Oakland. We have to pay teachers a comparable living wage.
I stand firmly with my colleagues, and I also see that instead of a line between Oakland Unified and charter schools, there are shades of gray. I know many families who choose to send their children to both district and charter schools. I love and respect many who are working in the charter space.
And I also see the impact of these students leaving our district schools. I hope that we might find better ways to even the playing field so charter schools also shoulder some of the unchanged overhead — or “legacy” — expenses that now fall disproportionately on the district.
There are reasons for the frustration aimed at charter schools. But vilifying other educators can’t be the answer. And we need our colleagues in charter schools to join in the fight for Oakland students.
So many of these difficulties come down to the fact that California is criminal in funding public education as little as it does. The Oakland principals captured this in their February 18 open letter.
Over the past two years we have literally had to raise funds for copy paper, toner, curricula and even a portable air conditioning unit as temperatures soared in my classroom. It is demoralizing and exhausting to beg friends for basic school supplies that our children deserve. And it isn’t sustainable.
I know that we can do better than this.
Before returning to the classroom three years ago, I worked at a nonprofit partnering with school districts across the country. I have seen what a robust investment in public schools looks like in other states and the difference it can make for students. And our Oakland kids and families deserve this too.
So, as this strike begins, I want to embody all that we teach our kids about care and concern for others, especially when we disagree. I want our kids and families and community to know how much we care for them as we strike. And I want to be part of a collective voice that is heard.
It’s time to stand with our kids, our colleagues, our future and to fully invest in California’s public schools.
Ginger Cook is a third grade teacher at ACORN Woodland Elementary School in Oakland Unified School District.
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