Reflections of an Oakland Unified School District teacher on strike – Day 1

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On Day 1, the Oakland Teacher Strike was all over Oakland – teachers and their supporters, including many students like these holding the banner, on picket lines, at rallies and at solidarity sites with students who refused to cross the picket lines. – Photo: CBS San Francisco

by Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu

Day 1. (Insert sigh here.) I survived. (Insert another sigh here.)

“Mommy, we goin’ on strike?” Sassafras is 7. She asked me this question a couple of days ago. “Yes, baby. We’re going on strike,” I answered her. But what does that mean? For me, it meant this:

Wednesday, Feb. 20

My face was (and still is) all broken out because I was hella stressed out. Hella. We knew the strike was coming, so we planned. My identical twin sister, Kehinde Salter, and I were in the throes of planning the solidarity site for students at Madison Park Academy (MPA). MPA is the school our children attend and the OUSD school where I am a full time performing arts teacher.

We went to work, taught all day and then packed up our classrooms. Since we were planning to strike, we didn’t know who would be in our rooms, so we took everything that we did not want to get broken, lost or stolen.

We talked through what Day 1 of the strike would look like. We attended an orientation at the East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC) to speak with volunteers about the solidarity school. We left. I stayed up messaging and texting people about securing supply donations and additional volunteers until midnight. I went to sleep.

Thursday, Feb. 21

I woke up before my alarm could even go off. I talked to God, got dressed and headed over to the East Oakland Youth Development Center to receive children. Two volunteers showed up.

One is a father who wanted to know how he could help. Another ran a 10 year long, extremely successful swimming program in OUSD until the district refused to pay him and changed the locks on the pools so he could no longer get in – another example of OUSD’s dysfunction that I just learned about today. He volunteered because he wanted to give back to the community that raised him.

My co-worker and Sassafras’ science teacher came through to help. Four students from UC Berkeley picketed at Fremont High (where Kehinde teaches), left to pick up donations from two houses, dropped off the donations and volunteered for an hour before leaving to go to class.

One of my eighth grade students from MPA came and volunteered all day. God heard me and sent some help.

We had fun. Our students were between the ages of 5 and 10, younger than the ones I teach every day. These are the golden years. They still find joy in the simple things. Scissors, glue, paper, markers, felt, stickers and imagination was all they needed to make beautiful projects; one of which was a gorgeous purse embellished with hand crafted felt emojis.

We fed the students from the plethora of food donations we received. We played Sharks and Minnows, Chaos Tag (aptly named) and ran relay races. I am sore.

At one point I lay out on the gym floor, flat on my back. “The old people are tired,” I called out. The kids came and helped me up to play with them some more. I held out my arm, not even trying to run. “Please tag me.” They did. “Thank you,” I said as I gladly sat back down to take a break.

Today with the children, I had a break – a break from the worry, stresses and anxiety of the strike, how it will affect me financially, the continuous reworking of the solidarity school plan, and the dual role of mommy and teacher. My husband had the day off, so my kids stayed home with him so I could focus on getting the solidarity school up and running.

Tonight my break is over. I am up working, tweaking plans, writing this article, being a mommy. I told my oldest daughter Saije that she’s coming with me tomorrow. Her response, “Nooooooooo. I want to stay home. Mooooooooom!” (Typical 13-year-old response. Now multiply that by 150 and that’s what I hear in my average day teaching.)

I silently mocked her when she went in the kitchen. Sassy and I shared a laugh. Then, coming out of the kitchen, Saije perked up, smiled even and asked, “Do I get paid?” “I’m on strike, Saije. I don’t even get paid. I can pay you in smiles and hugs …” The eye roll she responded with was priceless.

Seriously though, smiles and hugs – I received a few of those today. I spoke with a parent who entrusted me with the care of her child who, at 5 years old, has PTSD from being kidnapped at the age of 3. I told her about all of the resources available to her children at the EOYDC, the oldest of whom is old enough to begin her college search.

I told her how the EOYDC will provide her high schooler with scholarships as long as she is in school, up through pursuing a doctorate degree. I connected with wonderful volunteers that I might not have met were it not for this strike.

I encourage, inspire and uplift students daily. In the past 19 years of teaching, I’ve received millions of smiles and hugs. If the smiles and hugs teachers received over the course of our careers could be monetized, we would all be multimillionaires. If we lived in a society that valued smiles, hugs, love, honor, respect, peace and humanity more than money, teachers would never have to strike.

Unfortunately, however, we live in a society where millionaires with corporate interests privatize public education for their own financial gain (i.e. charter schools), depleting resources from Black and Brown communities.

The educators know what’s up, and we ain’t havin’ it. Ahem, we are not having it. For those who do not speak fluent slang, we will not continue to tolerate such shenanigans and utter tomfoolery.

So we strike. OUSD, we’re coming for you first. Sacramento, you’re next. Our students deserve much better, and we are going to see that they get it. Bring it on, Day 2!

Teacher, culture builder and entrepreneur Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu can be reached at taiwoseitu@gmail.com.

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