We Must Reduce Gentrification in Our Classrooms

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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.


The lack of teachers of color, particularly Black and Latino, is undermining the education
of students in our schools, says Alex Mejia.


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.


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

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