Reflections of an OUSD teacher on strike – Days 4 and 5

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by Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu

Day 4

“All people have a right to a safe and nurturing environment, and OUSD is jeopardizing the lives and futures of these students by not providing teachers with the support they need.” – Jed Lee, UC Berkeley student and solidarity school volunteer

“Hey Babe.” My husband calls me every day on his lunch break to see how things are going. “What are you doing?”

“I’m cleaning up. We just finished lunch.” Today’s lunch was very different from previous days. We nearly doubled our student population overnight.

We went from five students on Thursday, to 14 on Friday, to 43 on Monday to 75 today. We had to have two lunches for the first time. Luckily, one of our volunteers worked in food service for years and had the kitchen running smoothly. Most of the students had finished eating and were happily playing in the gym, so I was cleaning up the “Eat and Greet” room, our cafeteria space. “What’s up?”

We went from five students on Thursday, to 14 on Friday, to 43 on Monday to 75 today.

“I was listening to KMEL this morning and they were talking about how parents are irritated because teachers are not at work.”

Uh-oh, or to quote Scooby Doo, “Ruh-Roh!” That got my attention. I had to go into an empty, quiet room to have this conversation. “Parents are irritated how?”

“I guess they felt like they didn’t know what was happening and that the strike should be over. I guess they feel like they’re being inconvenienced.”

The irritation in his voice mirrored the growing irritation in my soul. My husband knows the deal. I come home venting often about the ridiculously large classes I teach, the lack of supplies, the money I spend out of my pocket to purchase supplies for my students, the disrespect teachers endure and the limits OUSD places on what disciplinary actions can be taken. Parents being inconvenienced? Teachers are inconvenienced daily.

“How? How could they not know what was happening when teachers have been telling parents for over a month now that it was likely we would be going on strike? How many poorly attended parent meetings did teachers hold all over the district? How many times did we stand outside to hand parents fliers after school and have parents look at us and drive away? We’ve been telling parents for over a month now that a strike was likely!”

“I know. It made me so upset that I almost called in.”

Oh Lord! What did my husband start? I was fired up. If I weren’t so hoarse, I’m certain I would have been yelling. But instead it was more of a super intense conversation.

“How about, how many parents check in with their children about what’s happening with them at school? Do parents know that students don’t have textbooks in their classes? Do they know that sometimes there’s no paper to make copies of a textbook or toner to print work out? Do they know there’s no toilet paper to wipe their butts? Do the parents have any idea what’s really happening in these schools?”

Do parents know that students don’t have textbooks in their classes? Do they know that sometimes there’s no paper to make copies of a textbook or toner to print work out? Do they know there’s no toilet paper to wipe their butts? Do the parents have any idea what’s really happening in these schools?

I get it. I’m a parent. The work schedules of most parents do not allow them to come visit school during the school day or sometimes even make a meeting after school. But sheesh! Parents can read fliers, read emails and talk to their kids about what’s going on. Any one of those approaches would have resulted in parents being more informed about the strike.

Now, am I saying this is the case for all parents. Absolutely not, but Baby let me tell you, it burns me up to hear and see people place blame where it is not due.

“You should call KMEL. Send your articles. They need to know.” My husband was upset. This is one of the reasons I love him: He’s always got my back.

“Yeah, maybe I will.” Parents need to know the truth. But I can’t call KMEL to tell anyone anything because they won’t be able to hear me. So, I suppose regular, old-fashioned reading will have to do. And for those of us who read, we have teachers to thank for that.

Day 5

“My God! My back is itching like crazy!” This was a burning itch. It started yesterday when we were getting ready to leave the EOYDC, only on my face. A fine rash appeared, along with some burning. I felt the hives forming. Today it is my back.

“Why? What’s wrong, Mommy?” Sassafras, my 7-year-old, was in the kitchen with me, waiting for me to warm up her dinner.

“Oh, I’m just having an allergic reaction to my life right now.” I turned back to my task of removing food from the refrigerator.

This is not a new stress response for me. The worst was during the second semester of my senior year in college. It was a couple of days before my senior recital (which all music majors have to successfully complete in order to graduate). I knew all of my arias, had worked extensively on my French, German, Spanish and English diction, and knew all of the translations of my songs. I don’t think it was the recital so much as it was that the life I’d known for the last four years – the formative years of my adulthood – was about to drastically change.

Maybe that’s what’s bothering me now. The life I knew, teaching every weekday, has drastically changed. My new normal is absurdly abnormal and it’s irritating me – literally irritating my back.

At this point I am seriously reconsidering my decision to teach in OUSD, and not because of the students. I love my students, but I am working for a district that seems to have no love for its students, teachers or classified staff.

At this point I am seriously reconsidering my decision to teach in OUSD, and not because of the students. I love my students, but I am working for a district that seems to have no love for its students, teachers or classified staff.

Ironically enough, I happen to be on the hiring committee for my school. I know, right? If I could insert the emoji here with one raised eyebrow, scratching its chin, I totally would. Anywho, prior to the strike, back yonder when things were “normal,” I’d agreed to attend an OUSD hiring event, which, of course, totally slipped my mind.

Picture it. Oakland. 2019. Last week as I was checking my work emails, I saw one about a hiring event set for last Thursday, the first day of the strike. The email thread read something like this:

“Who’s going tomorrow?”

“Seitu agreed to go.”

Eeeeeeeh. I honestly don’t remember what came next on account of the fact that I wrestled with how to politely and professionally say, “Aww hell to the naw! I ain’t goin’ to no damn hiring event and we ‘bout to be in a strike! Nope! Not gonna happen. It’s never going to work.”

Instead I typed, “I completely forgot about this. I do not have the capacity right now, nor do I feel comfortable recruiting with the strike beginning tomorrow. So, I will be unable to attend. I apologize.”

I wonder how many people showed up.

So, back to my back (ba dum pum pum). Day 5 was stressful.

To begin, I am hecka hoarse. Our numbers in solidarity school are nearing the 100-student mark. Couple that with volunteers rotating in and out all day, many of them new, and that’s a lot of talking on my part. With each new student and volunteer, I have to teach our rules, and review them several times a day.

Our numbers in solidarity school are nearing the 100-student mark. Volunteers rotate in and out all day, many of them new. With each new student and volunteer, I have to teach our rules and review them several times a day.

Luckily, many of the students know what the “Black mama look” is. You know, the raised eyebrow, intense stare and firm gestures that say “SIT DOWN” or “YOU – go over THERE” or “CUT IT OUT,” “SHUT IT DOWN” or “Don’t MAKE me come over there!” Yeah, the kids know how to interpret all of those looks and respond well, thankfully.

Policies and procedures are being adapted in the moment. Then, every night, my sister Kehinde and I fine tune them. We see what works and what doesn’t work, and we land somewhere in the middle, because of course something always happens to throw a wrench into the plans.

Today’s wrench was a child (a tweenager of course) who refused to follow directions and then started to talk crazy to Kehinde. Said child was told if she could not follow directions, she would not be allowed to return to solidarity school.

We later found out that she had been kicked out of the East Oakland Youth Development Center’s afterschool program a while ago. We will see if she comes back tomorrow acting foolish. Unlike in OUSD, we do not have to keep her there. We can ask her to leave.

No matter how many times I told volunteers children are never allowed to walk around the building unaccompanied by a volunteer, everywhere I looked, I saw children walking through the building unaccompanied. The result, a grand and glorious mess left in the art room where children got a hold of a gallon sized bottle of glue and used nearly all of it making slime.

CURSE YOU, SLIME!!!!!

It took nearly an hour to clean it up. I left that task to my teenage volunteers, who then swore that no kids would be left to roam again. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

Ah, tomorrow. Tomorrow we will officially enter Week 2 of our strike. More children will probably show up. Many, unless they are siblings of students already enrolled, will probably be turned away because we are at capacity.

Tomorrow we will officially enter Week 2 of our strike. More children will probably show up. Teachers may be irritated (since the only updates we have received essentially say, “We are still bargaining”). Parents may be more frustrated. Students will be placated, and I will continue to find the humor in the beautiful improvisation that is solidarity school.

Teachers may be irritated (since the only updates we have received essentially say, “We are still bargaining”). Parents may be more frustrated. Students will be placated, and I will continue to find the humor in the beautiful improvisation that is solidarity school.

Oh yeah, and I am going to continue talking to God to continue increase my faith and, in the process, get rid of these hives because they are not the business.

Contact Oakland-teacher-on-strike Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu at taiwoseitu@gmail.com.

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