Reflections of an Oakland Unified School District teacher on strike – Day 2

On Feb. 22, Day 2 of the strike, United Farm Workers leader Dolores Huerta and Oakland Education Association president Keith Brown, and hundreds of teachers, students and parents march down Adeline Street after an Oakland Unified School District teachers’ rally at DeFremery (Lil Bobby Hutton) Park in West Oakland. – Photo: Ray Chavez, Bay Area News Group

by Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu

“No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no …”

I observed the beautiful posters the students were making to show their solidarity with teachers. One student, Sa’Niyah (who is my birthday triplet) even taped two pieces of paper together and wrote a short paragraph.

This poster, however, was different. There were no colors. It was written in pencil only and just said one repeating word: no.

“Whose is this?” I asked Sa’Niyah, who was showing me her paragraph, about the minimalist, colorless oddity. “That’s Cameron’s,” she replied. Ah, Cameron’s.

Cameron is my 7-year-old nephew, Kehinde’s son. He’s extremely smart, reads well beyond a second grade level and has an extensive vocabulary, so naturally I had to question him about his poster. Plus, I love hearing his responses.

“Cameron, why does your poster only say no?”

“It doesn’t.”

I looked closer. After about 50 no’s, way in the bottom right corner of the page was the word “sheke.”

“No no no no no no no no no no no sheke? What’s a ‘sheke’?”

“It says, ‘No strike!’”

“No. It says, ‘No sheke.’”

“Well, what do you want from me? I can’t spell! Ok?” He promptly returned to doing whatever I had interrupted him from to ask about his poster. He seemed irritated.

I, however, was extremely tickled by the exchange. Cameron’s “sheke” solidarity school plan is clearly to work on his spelling.

We had 14 students on Day 2 at our solidarity site, where students can stay and learn without crossing a picket line. Fourteen in a classroom is a lovely number, unlike the 51-54 students I had for two periods of drama every day in my first year of teaching at Madison Park Academy (MPA).

Smaller class sizes is one of our OEA demands. Trust me, when you squeeze 54 students in a room that is designed to accommodate 28, you’re no longer teaching. You are simply managing chaos.

We had 14 students on Day 2 at our solidarity site, where students can stay and learn without crossing a picket line, unlike the 51-54 students I had for two periods of drama every day in my first year of teaching at Madison Park Academy (MPA).

Speaking of chaos, we had some crazy things happening between Days 1 and 2 that had me feeling like OUSD is shady AF (as the kids would say) – as if I am working for some straight up thugs.

So, let me tell you a little bit more about Day 2 …

The day started out beautifully. I woke up, talked to God, got in my routine – this time with kids in tow. The teenager feigned illness in a tired attempt to stay home (but was magically well enough to be glued to her phone – typical). I wasn’t havin’ it.

I talked to God again because I was allowing her to push my buttons and I needed to remain calm. I surprised myself at how calmly I responded to her foolishness, hallelujah. Parenting is a struggle. We got out of the house on time, picked up my sister, niece and nephew and headed to the EOYDC.

As we welcomed students (who diligently worked on their beautiful and minimalist “sheke” solidarity posters), we checked our fabulous teacher thread in WhatsApp. Thanks to this wonderful app, we are in constant communication with teachers on picket lines throughout Oakland. This is how we found out about visits to solidarity sites from health inspectors.

[Seriously?!]

Redwood Heights, Bushrod and Brookdale were all visited on Day 1 by health inspectors who told them to throw away sandwiches (made that morning) that had not been refrigerated before lunch. Not wanting to waste food, solidarity staff took the sandwiches to a homeless encampment in Emeryville.

[Wrong.]

Redwood Heights, Bushrod and Brookdale were all visited on Day 1 by health inspectors who told them to throw away sandwiches (made that morning) that had not been refrigerated before lunch. Not wanting to waste food, solidarity staff took the sandwiches to a homeless encampment in Emeryville.

We then found out that teachers at some sites had the police called on them for “illegal picketing” even though none of their actions were illegal. No one physically prevented anyone from crossing the picket line.

[OUSD, you suck. Yeah, that part.]

Then came the good news. Hallelujah! “Any update on attendance?” This was the question of the day, our gauge at how successful Day 1 was.

“Bunche is down to two students inside.”

“Forty at Tech.”

“Fourteen at RISE/NHA out of 650. Down 26 from yesterday.”

“Tech also down from yesterday!”

“Three, down from 10 at Fremont.”

“Sixteen students at Skyline. Down from 49.”

“Only three students in Thornhill today, but many on the picket lines!”

“About eight showed up at Life. Admin suggested they go home or join picket. So we’re effective[ly] shut down today. Support staff is out on picket and admin is in and out.”

“Zero at Manzanita Seed. One at Manzanita Community.”

Teachers chimed in from across the city.

“Sixteen students at Howard, 10 less than yesterday.”

“O-High admin said about 20 here today, down from 50-plus yesterday.”

“Carl Munck had about 50 students today, down from a little more than 80 yesterday.”

“Ten, from 15, between Futures and CUES.”

“Two at Esperanza.”

“Twelve at Bret Harte.”

“About 16 at OHIS, slightly down for 23 yesterday.”

“Zero kids at Glenview Elementary today!”

“A little over 40 kids showed up at UFSA, but a lot of them left and went home. Some came out and joined us on the line.”

“I heard three kids at Sojourner Truth.”

“About 27 at Piedmont Avenue Elementary today, down from 70-plus yesterday.”

[Yes! We shut it down! Take that, OUSD!]

MPA Upper had about 50 kids, out of a little less than 800. Attendance across the district was down to 3 percent. If we were calculating grades, 3 percent would be a super F. OUSD gets an F-. Their attempts at sabotage were futile! Wa-ha-ha-ha-haaaa (in my cartoon villain voice. I did mention I teach drama, right?)

The OEA however, gets an A+ because 97 percent of our students are standing in solidarity with us during the “sheke,” I mean strike.

We shall see what Day 3 brings. I know the district is feeling the sting, so they may be getting desperate. Teachers, however, are standing strong and will continue to stand until all of our demands are met.

If you need more information about solidarity schools, email me at taiwoseitu@gmail.com.