Oakland International High School

Grade & Subject: 11th Grade- English (Newcomers)
St. Olaf College: BA- Physics and Religion
Loyola Marymount University: MA- Urban Education

I grew up in a very white suburban neighborhood in Nebraska. I took pride in always being one of the more progressive people in my circle through college in Minnesota. Quickly after I moved to Oakland, though, I realized that I had a lot to learn about race, racism, and oppression. As a privileged white guy, I’ve tried to shut up and listen to people in my communities; I feel indebted to those that have taken the time to help me see all the powerful forces in our society that I had not seen before. Each day, I’m the only white person in my classroom, and I’ve become more conscious of the ways that race affects my relationships with students.

100% of the students I teach are newly arrived immigrants who are learning English. Our kids come from more than 40 different countries and speak more than 30 different languages. I am so amazed and impressed by my students as they daily try to figure out who they are––some trying on a different personality each week. I love watching them and helping them figure out their own identities. To facilitate this process, OIHS creates a school culture where every child feels safe.

I know from personal experience that a safe school environment really matters. I was (and am) a person who stutters. From late elementary to early high school I felt somewhat uncomfortable in my own skin. Knowing that my teachers would be my champion and defender if and when I stuttered in class was essential to my personal and academic growth.

My students depend on having a safe environment to succeed. One-third of the 11th graders I teach are reading at a pre-K level, but with a lot of scaffolding and hard work, by the end of the year they are able to write five-paragraph essays about race and gender in The Raisin in the Sun. Students don’t think that they will be able to do something like that, but when we break down a monumental task into smaller parts, they knock it out of the park. This gives me hope.