Revitalizing Oakland Education for Students
“I take the responsibility of learning together with my students very seriously and feel honored to be able to set the tone of what education can look and feel like.”
Did you grow up in Oakland?
If not, what brought you to Oakland?
I grew up as a brown girl in a white world in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I came to the Bay to pursue my Master’s degree in Bilingual education at UC-Berkeley and knew I wanted to be a much needed teacher of color in the public schools and work with urban youth. I have lived in Oakland for the past 13 years ever since I finished graduate school and could not imagine living any other place. I am so grateful to raise my son here.
What is your connection to Oakland Education?
How would you describe your role in the community?
I have actually spent that last 13 years teaching in the bilingual program in San Leandro at a beautifully complex public school with almost 900 students and mostly immigrant families. Most of the students I taught were either recent immigrants or first generation from Michoacan, México. I am happy to begin my first year teaching in Oakland this year as the Spanish kindergarten teacher at Roses in Concrete.
I see my role in the community as being multi-faceted. I aim to develop strong relationships with my students and their families to gain their trust and be able to authentically partner with them to ensure that all my students are inspired and excited by their education. I take the responsibility of learning together with my students very seriously and feel honored to be able to set the tone of what education can look and feel like as a Kindergarten teacher.
What are your favorite aspects of your job?
I LOVE my students and I love their families. I love working within a tight knit community and being able to tell my students each year that I held them the first time they came to school as a baby. I learn so much about myself through my work and have endless gratitude for the way that my students remind me to stay authentically true to who I am and show me that vulnerability is the true way to connect and deepen relationships.
The year that I applied for the National Board certification was the year that I pushed my classroom into "the public eye". The certification process asked for a ton of video recording of practice which I had not done before. That was in 2008. Ever since then, video taping practice and student learning has become fundamental in my classroom, and in my room there is a culture that our learning is public. This has had tremendous impact on our collective sense of accountability and the pride we take in our work.
After all, isn’t the real revolution about love? What would education be like if every single student in every single classroom felt loved and knew that their teacher believed in them and would do anything possible to ensure their success?
… he knew that I cared that much and would be anything and everything possible to ensure that he was successful in every way in my classroom.
Another moment that sticks out for me is when I was texting one night with one of the mothers in my classroom and she was telling me about how she was asking her son who loved him most in the world, who thought he was the cutest, and who was his best friend. To all of these, he answered that it was his mami. When she asked who believed in him most, he answered Reena. To me, this is an everything moment and a true affirmation to the work that I do.
After all, isn’t the real revolution about love? What would education be like if every single student in every single classroom felt loved and knew that their teacher believed in them and would do anything possible to ensure their success? This student recognizing that I felt that way made me know I was doing my job right and fulfilling my responsibility.
What from your background do you believe led you to do what you do now?
I think that becoming a mom while in college changed the direction of my life path. I had every intention of one day being a photojournalist, but I had two lovely boys in my last two years at Cal and instead went into kids media. The professional experience I gained in technology coupled with the experience I gained with caring for children have both contributed to where I am with my teaching today. I am able to fold both my love for technology and my understanding of child development and teenage behavior into my practice.
What do you love most about Oakland?
I love the revolutionary spirit, the deep history of activism, and of course, the food. Hallelujah.
What motivates you?
The desire to help create a more equitable society is huge for me. It is the fuel I need during all of the late-night lesson planning I do.
What do you like to do in your free time?
What free time?
What is your best advice to young people?
My best advice to young people is to find the love in learning…to remind them that they have the power and the right to an inspiring education that pushes, reflects, and connects them to becoming their best selves.
Reena Valvani is among those truly special educators whose combination of will and skill result in a classroom that draws students and families into a truly transformational experience. All boats rise in Reena’s classroom and her inclusion of parents as authentic partners results in the kind of collaboration between families and classroom teacher that people write books about.Jeff Duncan-Andrade
If you were to reimagine public education in Oakland
what would that vision look like?
Wow. Much of what I imagined and even what I did not know could be possible is already happening at Roses in Concrete Community School. I am so humbled and honored to be a part of a community responsive school, with amazingly talented and inspiring visionaries. Even before we opened, our school community had already come together in countless ways to build this dream. This assures me that creating a true partnership amongst families
and students and staff is the absolute way to heal community. I am over the moon excited to be the first K-12 dual immersion school in the Bay as a mother and an educator. The thought of my son and my students being able to maintain and extend their academic Spanish into high school and graduate with the biliteracy seal on their diplomas gives me chills. I am honored to be a part of facilitating growth amongst the bilingual leaders of our future.