Opinion: We Must Reduce Gentrification in Our Classrooms
Jan 12, 2019
By Alexandra Mejia
Gentrification of Oakland leaves many of us with empty pockets and anxiety about a rent increase, but have we ever thought about gentrification affecting more than just where we live?
As families and educators, we are facing gentrification in our classrooms. Students are being referred to special education classes, missing out on class lectures, and being put in situations where they are at risk of dropping out.There is a disconnect between our highly diverse youth and the teachers who educate them. One issue many students face is the educators’ idea of “safety.”
Because frequently teachers are not from Oakland communities or similar communities, they struggle to connect with students who have been shaped by the communities in which they live.
These new white educators do not comprehend the everyday struggles and traumatic situations that the students of Oakland may face. These teachers are caught off guard by the culture shock they have been hired into, and they may adopt a narrative that their students make them feel unsafe or endangered.
Our students face every day issues that these new, naïve teachers are not prepared to address, and so they simply teach to the small portion that they feel comfortable with and deem the rest as low-performing.
These “low performing” students are taken out of class to receive some sort of punishment, referred to special education classes for behavior problems, or even expelled.
Thus, students are placed on a path that leads to the teachers’ self-fulfilling prophecy. They believe that because everyone thinks they are “bad” and, that is what they must become.
Frequently these new teachers give up and resign, beginning a new cycle of inexperienced, ill prepared teachers. Education becomes associated with institutionalized oppression and students reject the school system that treats them like outsiders in their own communities.
There is an immediate need to hire teachers devoid of the systematic biases that target our students of color.
So why is this influx of white middle class educators such a trend? It is easy to assume that there are just simply not enough teachers coming out of the Oakland community, but that assumption is entirely false.
The reality is that there are teachers who are shaped by these types of communities who are exploding with passion about teaching the youth that they see themselves in, but simply struggle to survive economically as a teacher.
After four years of racking up student debt to earn a bachelor’s degree, prospective teachers must partake in an intensive credential program that requires them to volunteer themselves for a year of free teaching and pay hundreds of dollars to pass a series of tests in order to gain their credential.
Then, when hired on as teachers, they are barely making enough money to pay their rent. Many teachers face the choice to either sacrifice financial stability, or sacrifice having a career where they can shape and educate youth in an effective way.
If we begin to support and value effective teachers, we will see a change in the community. The city of Oakland would benefit immensely by hiring teachers in their own communities as educators, but what steps must be taken to make this possible?
The students of Holy Names University propose that affordable housing for public school teachers from the Oakland community would lead to an increase in student performance, a greater teacher retention rate, strengthening of the Oakland community and an overall more productive, welcoming school environment.
Alexandra Mejia is an Oakland resident preparing to be a teacher and a graduate student at Holy Names University.