Strike preparations of an Oakland Unified School District teacher

Twin teachers Kehinde Salter and Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu, as Fremont Tiger Ambush, organized a pre-strike sick-out to rally at OUSD headquarters on Jan. 18, well attended by both teachers and students. – Photo: Jahahara Alkebulan-Ma’at 

by Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu

I am meal prepping for the week and singing “Hakuna Matata” along to the Lion King playing on my living room TV, which my children left on when they went to bed. “Hakuna Matata,” for those who don’t know the song, means no worries. Ha!

How ironic on the Monday night that looks very different from my normal Monday. Normally, I would be attending choir rehearsal in preparation for the Wednesday night and Sunday morning services at my church, but not this Monday.

Today, on my day off from teaching, I attended two meetings. The first was a student and teacher solidarity meeting at the Oakland Education Association office, where we discussed ideas for mobilizing students and where I and other adults answered questions students had about how the strike will affect their academic careers.

The second was a meeting at the East Oakland Youth Development Center, my school’s solidarity school site (a safe place for students to go who cannot stay home with parents and family members during the strike). So, if I didn’t mention it before, not only am I striking, but I am also helping to organize the strike as well. Hakuna matata indeed.

In the grand scheme of things, I suppose I am not that unique and neither is this strike. I am one of thousands of teachers participating in one of many strikes nationwide to obtain a high quality education for our students. Nevertheless, my situation is unique in that I am viewing this strike through a very special lens.

I am a product of OUSD. I attended Luther Burbank Elementary School, Kaiser (during the short time it had a seventh and eighth grade), and Oakland Technical High School. I’ve taught first and second grade in a private school in Oakland. I was a full time music teacher in an Oakland charter school. I am an adjunct music professor for Berkeley City College, for which I taught dual enrollment classes in several Oakland high schools.

My business, Lyric Performing Arts Academy, is a contractor for the company that provides after-school programming at the school where I am currently a full time OUSD teacher. Finally, my children are OUSD students – in the flatlands, not the hills. I’ve seen OUSD through the eyes of an OUSD student, parent, consultant and teacher from “competing” schools and an instructor in a higher education setting. As such, I’ve seen and experienced more than the average person.

I can honestly say that every place I have ever taught has had its share of problems. That is a fact of life. However OUSD has a special type of dysfunction that I have not encountered elsewhere, and the goal of every teacher that I have talked to, protested and brainstormed with (differences aside) is to eliminate this dysfunction in order to serve our students in the best way possible.

In this series of articles, I am not going to rehash the statistics, facts and figures found in other articles because there will be a plethora of them. Instead, I want to put a face to the faceless teachers you read about.

We are real people with a real desire to educate the students we love the best way we know how. Right now, the best way is to walk off the job to demand justice for our youth.

OUSD can do better. Our students deserve better and, as we embark on this journey to demand better, I will give you a glimpse of what it’s like to be on the frontlines. Thank you for standing with us.

In solidarity,

Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu

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