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Straight from the Teachers' Lounge

Scott Lucas | June 13, 2014 | Lifestyle Story City Life

Editor's Note: This is one of many dispatches from Oakland that San Francisco magazine is publishing over the next month, all part of our June "Oakland Issue." To see the rest of the issue's contents, and to read stories as they become available online, click here.

Since emerging from state control five years ago, Oakland’s schools—both traditional and charter—have been making progress. The most recent graduation rate is 62.7 percent—up from 55.2 percent for the 2009–2010 school year. Even so, the old story about a district in perpetual crisis lingers. So who better to separate fact from fiction than the folks in the trenches? Using public email addresses, we reached out to 128 teachers from April 4 to April 25. Good and bad, here is what they told us.

Does your school prepare students to use new technology?
Our kids are ready to plug into the Matrix. 13.4%
Mostly—at least they can tell a t-square from a tablet. 36.9%
Many of our students are getting left behind. 39.5%
We're in the Stone Age here. 10.0%
Sample response: "Microsoft Word 97. 2003 if you're lucky. Seriously."

Is your school preparing its students for the next level of education?
Move over, Einstein. 6.5%
We have room for improvement, but we do pretty well. 59.8%
Though we have a few stars, most of our students need serious help. 30.3%
Very few of our students will succeed at the next level of school. 3.2%

Do you think Oakland's schools get an unfair rap from the media and the public?
Yes, Oakland's schools don't get a fair shake from the media or the public. 16.6%
Our community understands our challenges, but those on the outside often don't. 37.3%
To an extent, but there are very real problems here. 43.6%
We deserve all of the criticism that comes our way. 2.3%

Are the parents at your school engaged in their children's education?
I know my school's parents better than I know my own. 16.5%
They do an OK job. 40.8%
I wish they were here more. 38.2%
I couldn't even tell you if our students even have parents. 4.3%
Sample response: "There are challenges for our parents—multiple jobs, childcare deficits, language barriers, substance abuse, incarceration—that get in the way of participation."

Do you feel proud telling people that you teach at your school?
Absolutely. Every chance I get. 64.0%
Most of the time, yes. 25.6%
I'm not exactly thrilled. 10.4%
I'd rather lie than tell people where I work. 0.0%

Does your school administration give you the resources you need to teach to your potential?
Yes, we have a fantastic principal and administrative staff. 24.7%
Our administrators do pretty well with the resources they get. 50.4%
Too often, our administrators get in the way of great teaching. 11.5%
Our administration has got to go—the sooner the better. 13.2%
Sample response: "It's not the school—it's the district's misuse of funds. We do our very best with the crumbs we get."

Does your school help its students overcome racial, social, and economic disparities?
Definitely: We're leveling the playing field. 23.0%
We help some students, but we can't do it all. 56.3%
Sad to say it, but probably not. 15.8%
To the contrary, our schools are magnifying inequalities. 4.7%
Sample response: "I've worked at a hills school that served white students. Now, I work at a flatland school that serves black and Latino students. The disparity is unbelievable and depressing."

Would you send your own children to the school at which you teach?
I'd fight tooth and nail to get them in here. 30.2%
There are better options, but my school would be fine. 36.9%
I wouldn't love it. 12.6%
Oh, hell no. 20.1%
Sample response: "At my school, my child would feel racially isolated, the way all of my students would feel at 'better schools.'"

Is your school at least as good as the one you attended as a student?
Yes, this school is far better than the one I attended. 15.1%
In some respects we're better, in others not so much. 48.7%
For the most part, this school is worse. 20.1%
In every way, my current school lags behind. 15.9%
Sample response: "My school now is far better—and I went to school in Mill Valley."

Does your school offer enough extra-curricular programs, like sports, arts, or student clubs?
Oh yeah, we're practically the YMCA in here. 32.0%
Some, but I wish we had a lot more. 44.0%
We could be doing much, much more. 14.4%
Ha. We barely offer any enrichment at all. 9.6%

Including the current year, how long have you been teaching?

1-3 years 31.5%
4-6 years 17.3%
7-9 years 12.6%
10+ years 38.5%

At what kind of school do you teach?
Public elementary school 32.7%
Public middle school 40.9%
Public high school 19.6%
Charter elementary school 4.9%

Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco.

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