This fall I began a Master in Education and Multiple Subject Teaching Credential program at UC Berkeley. While I knew that every public elementary school I would student teach in would be different, I was unprepared for the shock of just how different public schools in California really are.
I recently finished my first placement at a school in Oakland. As I drove up to my second placement in Moraga, I immediately noticed the look of the school; it was landscaped and clean. I signed in at the front office and Chris, the school secretary, informed me that I was now privy to “Starbucks, for free and no line!” That was when it clicked. This experience, from the culture of the teachers, administration, and families, to the materials available for teachers to use, to the way teachers and students approached learning, would be very different. Let’s be honest, my master teacher in Oakland had to “steal” art supplies out of the office in order to have materials for the students! And here I was standing in an enormous room surrounded by supplies for teachers to just take whenever they so chose.
What’s more, the systems in which teachers work are so different that my master teacher in Oakland has a hard time doing the things that my master teacher in Moraga does. While my master teacher in Moraga creates her own curriculum for students, my master teacher in Oakland has to use a scripted curriculum from a single source. While the students in Moraga play on clean playgrounds with lots of staff to supervise, the students in Oakland play on a broken-glass-covered blacktop in an area that is largely unsupervised. While the teachers in Moraga get lots of help from parent volunteers, the teachers in Oakland are largely isolated and on their own to make learning happen for the students. The students at these respective schools only live about 20 minutes apart, but their educational experiences are worlds apart. I am deeply saddened that such inequalities exist, but reminded of how important it seems to remain positive and work to make a TRUE and LASTING change in the ways teaching and learning are approached across socio-economic statuses.
If this means picking one small issue a week, a month, or a year, such as getting the glass off the playground then so be it. If this means switching parts of the scripted curriculum for curriculum that is more hands-on, interactive, and meaningful for students then so be it. If this means relentlessly encouraging parents to take an active role in their child’s education through helping out at the school or in the classroom then so be it. If this means really working to create a community of teachers who help each other then so be it. I know that I cannot change everything and that inequalities exist, but more importantly I know there is a lot I can do for public education if I “start locally but think globally”.
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