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
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.
Alex Mejia is an Oakland resident preparing to be a teacher and a
graduate student at Holy Names University.