Thursday, June 14, 2018

What it Means That They're Still "My Kids"

When I was teaching third grade, I told my students that they would always be "my kids." I didn't really think any of them would remember, but I'm so glad they did. I am hesitant to list the time I've gotten to spend with former students because it wounds like I'm bragging, but believe me, every single one of these interactions has been more of a gift for me than for them.

In the last few weeks, I have been able to help find a criminal lawyer for a former student (a wonderful woman is paying for it) and take his grandma (along with a dear friend) to get proof that she is the legal guardian of her granddaughter.

I was honored to give the keynote address for Faith Network of the East Bay's annual gala - talking about my experience teaching and all the wonderful work that Faith Network has done to support kids and teachers in Oakland.

I heard from a former student who's going to be a dad and asked me to knit a blanket for his baby daughter. He didn't have a dad and is very excited to be a dad to his daughter. He was so excited that he just sent me the sonogram in Facebook messenger, with a lot of exclamation points.

I had breakfast with another student who is a first generation college student and wasn't sure he would ever even graduate from high school. He told me, "I'm trying to have a steady diet of right decisions." He is thinking about being a teacher, saying that he doesn't like the idea of the low pay but that he loves working with children and that we really need more Black men in the classroom. He told me he doesn't like school because studying is hard, and then went on to tell me all about his anthropology and African American studies classes, his face lighting up as he explained everything he loved about the classes.

Today I had lunch with a former student who is now older than I was when I taught her. She is pregnant with her third child and is a wonderful mother. Her kids love learning and are super excited about their baby sister coming, telling their mom that they're going to read to her and teach her "her ABCs and how to clap." Every decision she makes is for the good of her children and it shows.

And finally, my Facebook memories showed me a college graduation that I was privileged to attend - a first generation college student who graduated from UCLA and was in my third grade class many years ago.

This week has been overwhelming in a good way. As a teacher, you don't get many monetary rewards. You don't always get to see any results from your work. This week, I have been able to see a flood of them.

I am not special when it comes to caring this much about students, and I think that is important to say that. I am the one who write about this, but there are teachers doing so much more. I know teachers who have had former students in their wedding and become godparents to former students. There are teachers who by groceries for their former students' families, who babysit, and who tutor kids for free in the summer. I know teachers who feed their students every day and some who take students' clothes home to mend. I know teachers who pray for their students every night.

I know many parents are already grateful to their children's teachers, but I have to say, you probably don't know everything the teachers do. We love your kids and we are so glad you share them with us.





Monday, June 04, 2018

Miracles and Warrior Women

I have been trying to write a post about Abuela, the grandmother of my former student, Jorge, who's currently incarcerated. (Read the links if you want to catch up!)

The reason it's been so hard to write is because it has been so incredibly discouraging. Abuela has been trying to get custody of her granddaughter and it has been a mess. The social worker didn't give her the right paperwork, then the social worker quit, she's been calling and no one spoke Spanish, etc. etc. It felt hopeless.

She asked me for help and THAT felt hopeless because I don't know the first thing about the legal system. In addition, I don't have the Spanish vocabulary to deal with "legal guardianship"and "foster care."

But our friend Mitali and I prayed and researched and asked for help. And help came.

First of all, an extremely generous person, who I don't know well, has offered to not only connect Jorge (in prison) with a good criminal lawyer, but to pay for it! I couldn't believe it. I actually thought I had dreamed it and had to ask her again to make sure it was real. She's really going to pay for a criminal lawyer for Jorge.

I talked to this lawyer, and she has hope. I don't understand any of the terminology or details, but she thinks that if we bring up all the trauma he had as a child, his sentence can be lessened. There is more to it than that, obviously, but I'm not going to go into it on a blog!

Then we tried to figure out the status of Abuela's granddaughter. She had a social worker for the case (the granddaughter was put into her custody by child protective services) but the social worker left the agency and they didn't assign her a new one. She had some paperwork from the social worker but it didn't have the official seal so it didn't officially show guardianship. We just didn't know what to do.

Things turned out MUCH better than any of us thought.

First of all, it turns out that grandparents can get official copies of birth certificates! So I'm sending in that paperwork for her tomorrow.

Secondly, and most important, we found out that she IS the legal guardian of her granddaughter! But no one told her so. Her child protective services case was closed in 2016 and her dad lost all parental rights. (Her mom died in late 2016). That automatically made Abuela her legal guardian. But somehow the notification got lost.

The social worker I spoke to was very impatient and condescending but thawed a little when I told her that Abuela didn't read or write and thus needed my help. She said, "Oh, that's hard."

We're going to go to court on Monday to get the paperwork with the official seal that is needed. Then Abuela will be able to prove that she is the legal guardian, without a doubt.

Thank you to everyone who prayed, who was pulling for her, and who donated money toward her court fees. Thank you, THANK YOU to the person who wants to stay anonymous who is paying for the lawyer. Abuela can't quite believe it. There were a lot of happy tears today.

This isn't a great picture of me, but I'm putting it up anyway,because if you want to know what a warrior looks like, look at Abuela. Don't stand between a grandmother and her grandkids. She may not be able to read or write, but she is extremely wise, and she is a fighter.