This year, professionally and personally, I needed to take a step back and reevaluate my time constraints, my obligations and just refocus on what I truly valued. I have had the opportunity to work in education for over 18 years. I spent five years teaching 5th grade in Northern California at a 5th-8th grade school. From there, I crossed over to the dark side, administration, and was a middle school (6th-8th grade) Vice Principal in Antioch, CA for two years. I wanted to do something crazy and the opportunity to move to San Diego presented itself. Where I landed a job as Lead Teacher of a K-8 pubic school on Camp Pendleton Marine Base during Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the year of “crazy”, I became pregnant with TWINS. This was the opportunity for my husband and I to scale back the crazy. Living in San Diego and welcoming twins, without the support of our mothers, might truly put us over the edge. I had the opportunity to return to my original school, in Northern California, as a 6th grade language arts/history teacher and one block of PE. Once the twins were born and I figured out mommy-hood times two, I took the opportunity to get back in the “admin game.” I became the Assistant Principal of a high school in the Los Angeles area. Followed by another position as a Lead Teacher of a K-8 in Phoenix. Finally, landing and spending five years, as the Assistant Principal of a K-8 school in Tucson, AZ. All of these professional opportunities could never have prepared me for the job I accepted this year as an “Opportunity Teacher.”
I currently work at SMLA. As an Opportunity Teacher.
“SMLA currently provides a single classroom environment with a combination of students in grades 6-8. The class is led by one teacher, one classroom assistant, and contains a maximum of 15 students. The small adult-to-student ratio provides intensive academic assistance, strategies to develop social skills and provides opportunities for success. A school counselor works with groups and individual students weekly to focus on school social skills. In addition, both parents and students are encouraged and assisted to obtain additional outside counseling when needed. Parents attend parenting classes that focus both on academics and student support. All students receive instruction using the California State Standards and district adopted textbooks in all core subjects. However, a lower student-to-teacher ratio allows teachers to work in small groups or one-on-one more often to facilitate students meeting the standards. SMLA uses sound classroom management techniques as well as many positive reward incentives to assist students in making good choices and in developing positive behavior.”
Ultimately, I teach “jail school.” There are many names for “jail school”. Opportunity Teacher, Community Day school or what the students call it “bad kids or kids “they” don’t care about.”
Ironically, I have spent the majority of my career in administration and with administration comes the countless hours of discipline. I have disciplined, counseled, suspended and expelled, more students then I care to remember. All of my years of service have been in Title 1 schools. While I was busy imposing “firm, fair and consistent” discipline, the reality is that there is an “inadequate public school systems, lack of minority professionals to serve as role models, and the use of standardized test evaluated by “white standards” (Bell, 1992)” which continues to support the oppression of institutional racism (Gotanda, Peller & Thomas, 1995).” Sadly, I have missed the mark all these years and until this year, I never evaluated “the intentional forms of white racial domination, white supremacy or colorblindness” that is blatant within the education system. My commitment to the position of disciplinarian, allowed me to excuse my complacency in institutional racism. That because I grew up poor and “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps” so to could others.
As a white female educator in a position of power, I never realized the amount of white privilege I truly possessed. Daily, I listen to the counter stories (Delgado, R. 1989) of “my bad students” and realize that “I am an oppressor and I rationalized, for years, “my firm, fair and consistent” position as the “administrator.” Now, I realize, “whiteness allows for specific social, cultural, and economic privileges (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995)” that my current students lack. My students are being excluded and have limited access to the mainstream education system and this will continue to keep them at a disadvantage.
The demographics within my class are status quo, six Spanish speaking Hispanic males and one Caucasian male. All six students receive free and reduced lunch and have shared with me their stories of struggle ranging from lack of parental involvement, drug use, incarnation, illegal immigration status, of both parents and students, and now their “consequence” for their action is to be further marginalized and isolated for the academic year so to “teach them a lesson” for their wrong doing. My job is not to be their savior, their disciplinarian or their parent but to advocate for my students and support them in obtaining high quality education. To provide them with “equal opportunity” by providing rigorous curriculum that will prepare them for their return to the mainstream classroom. My job as the “Opportunity Teacher” is “an important one in that it represents the efforts to create a socially and racially shared school community (Stovall, 2017).
Bell, D.A. (1988). White superiority in America: It’s legal legacy, its economic costs. Villanova
Law Review, 33, 767-779.
Delgado, R. (1989). Storytelling for oppositionists and others: A plea for narrative. Michigan
Law Review, 87, 2411-2441
Gotanda, N. (1991). A critique of “Our Constitution in colorblind.” The New Press, NY, 257-275
Ladson-Billings, G., & Tate, W.F., IV. (1995).Toward a critical race theory of education.
Teachers College Record, 97(1), 47-68.
Stovall, D.O. (2017). Born out of struggle:Critical race theory, school creation,
and the politics of interruption.