The call came at about 7:45 a.m. My tough-as-nails-never-let-anything-show-that-gets-to-you boss seemed shaken, yet efficient on the phone. I could hear the emotion being held back in her voice, but only because I have known her for three years. She told me that they took all the laptops. They broke a bunch of windows. They busted into the offices – again – the second time that week.
Honestly, I should have gone to the school right there and then. I should have. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t see the broken glass and look at the faces of those preschool teachers. The teachers that should have been preparing lessons and art projects that were instead running around sweeping up broken class and putting way destroyed desks, tossed papers before the children arrived on the buses – to make it safe for them. To make it safe for the children with autism; the children in wheelchairs and walkers; to make it feel safe to the parents who worried about their children a little more than other families – because their children had special needs.
I had to go there later in the day – and steeled myself walking in. District vans were parked outside the school, lots of people inside fixing things. Busy trying to make the break in go away.
Teachers were teaching. Eyes were sad, smiles forced. But children were going to lunch – teachers were helping them celebrate “super hero day” – children looked safe, happy, excited - oblivious to the damage, oblivious to the whispers of the adults. It was their school – and it was a good place to be.
The teachers made it that way – protected the children from what wasn’t right in the world. Kept their routines, listened to their stories about their costumes, worked on their colors and shapes – made the world calm, predictable, and safe. Protected the families too – told them gently, with assurance, with sympathetic smiles, with plans to make it better in the future – plans to keep the world from busting in again, stories of why everything would be OK.
The jokes started when the children were out of earshot – because that is how we all cope now. “I can’t believe they took my computer – you couldn’t give that clunker away on Craigslist!”…”I hope they didn’t take my 75 cents out of my desk – that was my mad money this week!” “Thank god they didn’t take my cube chairs – they took forever to get off of Donors Choose!” Sarcasm burying the honest disbelief of being robbed when you have next to nothing.
Quiet now. Whispers start about the other break-ins. Sequoia, Redwood Heights, Greenleaf…other OUSD schools that had been broken into this week too. Classrooms destroyed, technology taken…community spaces violated and destroyed.
I moved through the rest of my day – distracted, irritable. Hopeless. There was nothing I could think to do for those teachers. And I knew – deeply knew - that nothing would be done. The break-ins would barely be a blip on the Superintendents’ radar. The media might not even pick it up. It is Oakland - after all. Families would talk – for a while. A committee might be formed. The wealthier schools might fund an updated security system or better technology to replace what was lost. The rest of us would need to do without – but we were used to that. It is Oakland – after all.
Sitting in my car at the end of my day it hit me. Teachers at every one of the targeted sites did the same thing the preschool teachers did today. Quickly cleaned up a mess that wasn’t theirs. Became a sea of calm for families. Went on with teaching – no matter what. Made children smile and laugh.
Would the teachers be thanked? Would they be counseled? Recognized? Noticed as individuals – as people with needs – physical, psychological, or emotional?
No. That’s their job – you see. They don’t even expect it. They would never ask. The children and families are what is important.
I believe that too. But I also believe that we, as a profession, need to start asserting ourselves as people with needs. Ask people every now and again to look at us as human beings - people who might have a reaction to being burglarized and violated. People who might want to feel safe in the place in which they work. People who have gone without, and will continue to go without – and be recognized for making due and continuing to help children to learn in spite of it all.
Teachers are what is important too.