Thoughts on BET Awards and Appropriation and being Yellow and Jesus

So, I just read, “Dear BET Awards, Why did you think it was okay to Appropriate Asian Culture?”  And to be completely honest, I didn’t watch the BET awards. I didn’t even watch the Jesse Williams’ speech that all my friends shared.  However, I clicked this letter while wondering if the blogger was just being “oversensitive.”
Then I read the letter. Then I watched the video.  Then I wondered about it means to “appropriate.”  Then I thought a lot of things.  I’m going to try to walk you through my thoughts because my ultimate point isn’t to point to hypocrisy or to even assume it was intentional, but to perhaps make connections between trends that both I see and others seem to be uncovering.
[[Ten Second Word Association Break:  APPROPRIATION: Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Blackface, Kimmy Schmidt Season 2, Oriental, Blackish, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Tiger Lily, Halloween, Awkward Black Girl]]
I’ve been listening to a lot of Hamilton and I just super admire Miranda’s choice to use minorities to represent the US “immigrant/minority”-founding fathers because it’s true – even though our founding fathers were white, the point is that their status was that of what an immigrant minority might be today. (I also love how he uses rap as the “new” language and traditional, harpsichord, musical-y singing for the British king.)
Rough US history that’s more or less accurate-ish (notice how noncommittal this title is)
  • Back then, the British looked down on the colonists.
  • Then the British-heritage Americans looked down on immigrants from other nations.
  • Then the white Americans looked down on black and brown Americans
  • Maybe now that Black/brown people have more of a voice, they look down on the yellow?
Is this intentional? I don’t think so. But perhaps it’s a lesson about sensitivity.
A friend of mine was saying how the racist Red Cross posters  that were trending yesterday seemed blown out of proportion.  I looked at it today, and I see it. Maybe because I study this. And I do believe that there are certain defaults that people do because of our history, our schooling, and our unconscious biases.
I think we notice things that are dear to us.  And I guess up to this point, most people would agree.  Then we’d split into the “It wasn’t malicious, move on!”-Camp or the “Blow the whistle and change!”-Camp.
And maybe because Asian people aren’t loud about offenses, because of the fact that we’re used to the way we’re portrayed, that it has been a “non-factor”. Or maybe because of the desire to “unite” and support other minorities, we turned a blind eye to the racism thrust at us.  (For example, I was never comfortable with how this Chinese girl was treated when she shared an anecdote of experiencing racism from a black person, but I felt that maybe it would distract from the rallying cause of blacks, and maybe it’s better to just wait…)
[[ Aside: This year, at one of my schools, one girl (who also just had many other issues), kept swearing at me (3 times) and referring to me as “Chinita.”  I asked for a conflict-res conversation , andwhen the adult who was supposed to moderate this for me came to “prep” me, he mainly explained how in latino culture, it’s normal to call Asians “Chinita” and that no offense was meant by it.  Then in our conversation, it was about how this girl “hurt my feelings” until I veered the conversation towards community and the message that it sends to other people when you call someone a “chinita.”  I mean honestly – I didn’t want a conflict-resolution because my feelings were hurt – it just shouldn’t be a non-issue that the one Asian teacher is being called this!]]


Okay, the point isn’t to point out grievances against Asians.  Nor is it to point out how other minorities are also racist, because let’s be real – even WITHIN races and ethnicities, there are prejudiced factions.  I guess it’s that.. if I assume positive intent (hur hur), the learning for  communities may be that many times, the more powerful group doesn’t intend racism – so we don’t need to jump down their throats when they make mistakes, and we should be patient, because… the same mistakes will probably happen again… and there are many ways to get your way – so think about how you want to go about getting it.

This doesn’t mean you have to just let it go by.  But perhaps it means being more gracious when you do point it out.  [[Here is where I erased a few pointed/snappish remarks. I don’t think they translate well into type but you can hear it from me in person if you’d like]].

[[Final Aside:// This reminded me of a sermon my pastor preached a few weeks back in Ephesians 2:11-13.    K, I know the verses seem super random and hard to get and the sermon itself is a 78-minute doozy, but let me briefly explain the context.  As Paul writes this letter, he’s reminding the people of Ephesus, the Gentiles (aka non-Jews) about their background.  This piece here also serves as a huge reminder of how basically, in one generation, the gap between the Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles/goyiim) – one that has historically been preserved since Israel was a nation and has definitely been hostile – was bridged by the gospel… and I think that’s what’s super interesting about a truly biblical church. You go in and the commonality isn’t in ethnicity, socio-economic status, or whatnot, but it’s in the commonality of Christ.]]

Basically… people! Understand that you might be oppressed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t also be an oppressor.  So, Be. Gracious. And… if need be, admit that you’re wrong.  I promise, it won’t make you look weak or lose ground.

(But then ultimately, what change can there be until our hearts are changed?)

#rockandahardplace #imout



Closing the Loop

At one of my schools, teachers need to fill out an “End of Year” form so that their future teachers can get a quick snapshot of the varying degrees of needs in the classrooms.

As I began filling out information for the 6th and 7th graders, and then reading last year’s notes, I just got all teary, because it feels like that scene in the movies where the little boy has to give away his dog, so he writes this letter about the things his dog likes and then asks the future owner to take good care of this dog… and there’s an idyllic country tune playing in the background and the boy noisily wipes his running nose and eyes.


It’s hard to leave for something else.  I had the first part of 6th grade conferences today and it felt so premature for me to leave while letting them know that my co-teacher was staying.  I know I’ll feel differently later, but for now, I’m just feeling a little sad.  Also, there’s these LITTLE notes I want to give. Like, not ONLY should Jane not sit with Joe but Joe does really well with Bob on these occasions but not those.  Also, texting works better for Susie’s mom while for Curly, make sure you start contact and conversation early.

But then, it’s like, once you give away your dog, you’re not the owner anymore. The new owner might graciously ask you a few questions but once she changes his name from Fido to Fluffy, you don’t really have a say.  In 2 days, I will no longer have a say.



Pave the Road For Your Oakland Kids

During my four years working at Oakland, I found a lot of ways to stretch my time and money to get the kids just that much bigger of an edge.  Here a few things you could do at different parts of the month to get resources, trips, and programs for your middle school students!  (You’re in charge of figuring out transportation though; but BART and AC Transit have some sort of discounted cost as long as you contact them ~4 weeks ahead!)


Get Caught Reading – Order Free Reading Posters

Email Universities – Ask for college posters / pendants to post in your room!

CalShakes – {Humanities/ELA}  – check these guys out to see if you can get free Student Discovery Matinee tickets for the next School Year and get an In-School Residency underway.  The instructors here are fun, experienced, and this really allows students the opportunity to move and SPEAK!  (**I’d suggest the workshop happening second semester when classroom management is better).  BART/shuttle! 

SF Asian Art Museum – {Humanities/History} – Look through their exhibitions and see which ones could correspond with your lessons! Get a docent! It’s free for OUSD students and their chaperones, and BART/walking isn’t too bad.  And Sign UP! 

EXPLORATORIUM – they partnered up with PG&E to give out a few free field trips. Sign up ASAP!

Schedule a Holocaust Speaker for 2nd Semester – History is so important.  Let your students hear from a Holocaust survivor who can speak to the horrors of what happens when we don’t stand up for others and simply allow evil to happen.

FLOCABULARY – in the 2015-16 SY, OUSD built a partnership with Flocabulary so that teachers could get access to their videos and lessons. This is AWESOME for class vocabulary building, for introducing history concepts, and for getting down algorithmic math concepts. THE BEST THING is their Week in Rap, that, one year, my students and I watched every week.  It keeps us in the know about what’s going on around the world.  Lastly, if used regularly, this could lead to a cool project where students choose a topic and create their own educational raps! – Get parents to sign up for this STAT so that you can send out reminder texts. Spanish AND English!


Donors Choose – get your account started and submit something.  In the first week, any contributions can be doubled with whatever code exists.  Have this here because your first project is almost always guaranteed to get more enthusiasm from your friend (and I’d suggest something between 300-400, because if enough people donate, then some altruistic stranger will most likely cover the rest)…

I’m not done though.  The MAIN reason you want to be on Donorschoose is so that you can start writing your DonorsChoose request for materials for Chevron’s annual Fuel Your School thingy.  Think about what you REALLY want that costs $1,000 or less.  Write it up; make sure you’re detailed about what you’re getting and why… BUT  do NOT submit your draft until 9:00PM PST so that it qualifies for Fuel Your School.  IF you do it right at the 12AM EDT start time, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be fulfilled.  

**Rule of thumb; always have a project underway; you never know who’s going to suddenly get it into their head to donate a bunch (like Google and Stephen Colbert).

Adopt-A-Classroom – sign up for it. You might randomly get a few free $100s with no strings attached and no work to do afterwards.  Use it towards your classroom!


Read For the Record – {Humanities/ELA}– this is a COOL yearly event where kids from schools all across the country are read to, or read to others.  Every year 1 sweet, sweet book is picked (and is available for free online that day.  If you have a K-8 school, coordinate with the younger classes to get your big kids there to read!  If you’re in a 6-8, find a nearby elementary school to go to!

Prepare for NaNoWriMo {Humanities/ELA} – November is National Novel-Writing Month.  There are ways to create a virtual classroom and to get a classroom kit to jumpstart the excitement for writing! Students create their own writing goals and then boom! Off you go!


NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH  (write everyday for 30 days)



CS-First Start a CS club with your students!



Girls on the Run Bay Area – get your girls running after school.  This is a BIG commitment, but it’s free for the girls who are in it and they get shoes and lots of opportunities to build community and perseverance.

Do you have a $100,000 dream?  Submit a proposal.

Home Run Readers – If your students reach their reading goal, they get to go to a free A’s Game!


Google Science Fair {Science} – Use their resources to help kids start a project for the Google Science Fair (disclaimer: the winners are definitely students who have a bunch of resources that our students could only dream of. Perhaps starting a DonorsChoose project earlier to prepare for this might help?)

Prepare for Pi Day (3.14) – There’s a free pass to the Exploratorium on that day.  But even if you don’t go, start ramping things up by starting your geometry unit or ratios or irrational v. rational numbers.  Pi Day is so fun.


3.14 – PI DAY!


JANUARY – MARCH – This is when students can start signing up for programs for the next school year or over the summer.

Aim High – 5th-8th graders can apply to this awesome summer program.  I personally know really cool educators who were involved with this program in Oakland.

College Track – this is for our graduating 8th graders. I highly encourage you to get the applications and put in inquiries if you can’t find the application links around January or February.  This is an amazing program that sees kids to and through college.  They have LOTS of resources.  (Only applies to schools with whom they have a working relationship with: Oakland Unity, Life, Skyline, Oakland Tech, are a few, if I remember correctly).

CS Edge – This is a coding/math enrichment program that’s fairly new for 8th graders.    There are a few workshops during the Spring and summer course before high school.  Afterwards, this feeds into the high school program.  No links, but if you’re interested and can’t find information, feel free to contact me directly.

Girls Inc – Various Programs for the summer. I don’t know much about it but some of my top-notch girls have been in this!

Outward Bound Youth Leadership Cohort – this is for high school students, but if you’re in touch with intrepid kids, let them know about this and encourage them to apply!


Get kids reading! with the Oakland Public Library’s cool reading challenge and prizes

Things to look into over the summer…

Bay Area Wilderness Training – If you want to take your kids camping, this is a great way to get training and THEN discounted tent/sleeping bag / other supply rentals!

Personal Perks/Training

Preparing Your Kids For High Schools in Oakland

As a teacher, I had the privilege of working with one teacher who has the whole preparing-your-8th-graders-and-their-families-for-high-school down.

From about September-December, she has representatives from neighborhood high schools to come speak with our 8th graders.  Throughout the months, we usually get a mix of guidance counselors and students who come and tell us about their schools and sometimes share school swag with the students!  This also allows us opportunities to goal-set and just start to prepare for the future.  At the end of the semester, after seeing a few of these schools, it’s a good idea to run a “town hall” or “community circle” so that students can bring up questions and share their learnings.

During the first conferences, we share a packet with the students and their families where we talk with them about what they’re interested in and provide recommendations.

Here’s a bit of what we say:

If the child is less self-motivated and has trouble with executive function, homework, positive choices, etc (basically every middle schooler ever!), we suggest a smaller school.

District Schools:

MetWest – this is small, it provides internship opportunities. LOTS of positives.

Charter Schools:

Oakland Unity – small charter school. Our alumni and their families speak positively about this school.

Envision – another small charter.  A few mixed reviews, but in general, our students and families feel positive about this school.

Leadership Oakland (LPS)  – A small (strict) charter. Again, some mixed reviews, and I think I’d recommend Unity and Envision over this one, but LPS > a large OUSD high school any day.

If the child really doesn’t want a small school, 

Oakland Tech is a district school and it’s okay.  If the student is an academically successful student, there’s also their PAIDEIA program which sort of functions as a small school within a larger one.

Lighthouse and Life Academy are both great high schools, but unless you have a sibling there, you most likely will not get in. 😦

OAKLAND SCHOOL FOR THE ARTS requires try-outs/portfolios/etc… so look into this EARLY.

If the child is self-motivated, they’ll be successful anywhere, basically.  We still highly recommend Unity and MetWest, though, although Oakland Tech should be fine too.

By January, once the district applications are out, we run a parent night so that we can help fill out the form together.

Some insider info (which you probably won’t need if you’ve been working in OUSD):

  • If students are at all interested in MetWest (which I recommend), they need to mark it as first since it’s so small.
  • For the larger schools, Oakland Tech > Skyline > Oakland High > Fremont > etc.  (Sorry, no offense; just one middle school’s teacher’s experience with her students going there. Like I said, if the child needs more focused support, I’d suggest MetWest OR a small charter school).
  • For charter schools, students might as well apply to all of them since they could just say no once they get in.  For district schools, it’s important to put your first choice first. DO NOT LET KIDS PUT SKYLINE FIRST.  Because Skyline is a hot mess (it used to be better) AND most likely, they’ll get placed into Skyline anyway.   (although if they are going to Skyline, have them apply to College Track which will help them stay on the right path towards college).
  • Students without an Alameda or Berkeley address cannot go to a school in Alameda or Berkeley
  • Students going to school in San Leandro could also try out the Envision school there
  • Castro Valley has great schools if students are moving there.
  • If in Richmond, there is Aspire’s Cal Prep (which is actually pretty great) and LPS Richmond

By March/April, students should start hearing back about where they’re going.  If somehow they dropped the ball on applying to charters and ended up getting placed in Skyline or Fremont (a frequent occurrence), have them sign up for the waiting lists at…

  • The ASPIRE schools in Oakland
  • Alternatives in Action (some of my struggling kids go there and they feel positive about it… although I can’t safely say that this prepares students for the rigor of college)
  • I guess… ARISE?  I mean, ARISE has a great social justice focus but the academics are a hot mess and I can’t really recommend it over Fremont or Skyline.  I mean, I guess it’s small?  I know some teachers there who are awesome (but then the same could be said for Skyline/Fremont)


  • just say NO to Oakland Charter High School and American Indian. (Why are they still open?  Oh yeah. High test scores.  And friends in high places. And the fact that California actually doesn’t have any real accountability towards their charter schools which is why paternalistic, abusive, and embezzling schools continue to stay open.  It’s not libel if it’s true).


PS: If you can somehow get your kids into Life or Lighthouse, they are set!  

Sometimes I feel Perplexed that I’m a math teacher

Over 6 years ago, after my first summer in the “Summer MA in English for Teachers” program in UC Irvine (fabulous, cost-efficient program – I recommend – even though I didn’t finish), I wrote my “about” section and theorized my thoughts on the purpose of this blog’s existence.  I was into poetry, I still reveled in my Comp Lit BA, I was 23, I was a bit puzzled after my first year as a teacher, and I just had lots of ideas of what I wanted to do with education.

Then I went through graduate school.  I went through 2 years at a patriarchal, no-excuses charter. And now I’m finishing up at an organization where it was (for the most part) positive.  I went from teaching English Reading and Grammar to a self-contained middle school classroom to Humanities to Math.  MATH!

Every time I come here, I begin to just go in crazy random directions of reflection…

Right now though, I’m excited to share my first original math project that I’m going to introduce to my 6th-8th graders next week!!!! FINALLY!!!  I like it because it allows us to get excited about math history and provides a lot of entry points (I think), while also maintaining classroom management.  I was so excited about this I cranked it out in about 6 hours.

The URL is accessible, I already created a packet. The only other materials necessary are colors, paper, graph paper, rulers, compasses, calculators… which I know sounds like a lot but it actually isn’t that bad because different students can use different materials at different times.

If you feel like taking a look and giving me feedback, go to




(Teacher note: I think for 6th graders, I’ll sort of look and see. The start is a bit dry, and maybe it would be better just to start with the artsy Wheel of Theodorus).

Less than 1 Month of School Left

It’s insane, as I gear up for the end of the year.  It was so busy, and whereas I finally felt comfortable starting the year and liked how I asked questions and probed in terms of student management and culture and community-building, I never had so much difficulty dealing with adults!  Parents, teachers, school staff, admin, you name it.  What a learning experience!  But it was good! Let me explain.

Today I got a really sweet text from a friend: “Aww you know what [Husband’s Name] just said? He said that if he haws wealthy enough, he would have no hesitation funding a charter school for you!! :)”

Although the sentiment is indeed sweet, I don’t need a second to know that I don’t want a charter school.  I’d rather work as a teacher than run a school.  But I also know that it’s not just about one person having a vision or heart for the kids — you need a really good team.

It just becomes super clear how the teaching teams and what they value and spend time doing outside of simply imparting academic knowledge affect what students become.

Last week I spent 3 days helping chaperone a 6th grade camping trip while the other 6th grade teachers led. I also took my 8th graders to Cal.  Then I returned to both schools and just realized how it’s almost a farce of a school the other one is at this point.  Granted, they’ve had lots of turnover and their culture isn’t very strong… but that’s exactly my point.  Adults, a shared vision, cooperation, and a shared understanding of what is valued definitely affect what the students will value and in turn act.

Anyway, if I were to head up a school, I’d need a team of veteran teachers willing to leave their schools – and how easy is it to find that?  Hard.


CA Charters (+ regular public schools) Need Real Accountability

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I’ve seen this petition floating around on Facebook, and I was planning to sign it. After all, why not? I work at a charter school, 4 out of my 5 years teaching have been at charter schools, and I believe in the charter philosophy of giving teachers voice, families choice, and using a “free market” idea to effect such agency.  Yet when I saw this message that I would be sending to my state assembly members and senator, I couldn’t help but scrutinize it.  Interestingly, Diane Ravitch just published a blog on Bernie Sander’s comments on charter schools and she just neatly outlined some issue with charters.  Anyway, below is part of the message that I disagreed with.

…I believe that charter schools are an integral part of our public education system… Hopefully you are well aware of the incredible things that charters are doing for students in communities like mine. If not, I urge you to visit our campuses, talk to teachers, meet with parents and students, and observe the classroom instruction and extracurricular programs. You’ll find a level of caring, a belief in every child’s potential and strong academic results that will inspire you. I can’t imagine ever losing my charter school. I hope and expect that public officials like you will do whatever it takes to protect great public schools like mine.

I don’t think charter schools are necessarily an “integral” part of our public education system. I think it makes public schools think and scramble, it allows us to try things more quickly than we might in a district school, but at the same time, if our public education system were functioning well, we wouldn’t need charters.

I wonder what this petition exactly desires.  Do we want more “support” from our State senators and assembly members?  What does that exactly entail?  What I would like is actually more scrutiny on charter schools.  After working at an especially heinous one, why can’t there be more surprise visits, more deep probing questions of students and their families?  In CA, charter schools gets their charters renewed every 5 years.  At some charter schools (like more current one), they take the opportunity to revisit their vision, recalibrate with the whole community (teachers, admin, students, families), and figure out why and how to move in a specific direction.  In other charter schools, they make teachers sign something (without specifying what the teacher is signing, and the teacher doesn’t really have a choice), they pause distasteful practices during the walk-throughs and visits, and shmooze with local politicians… and voila, a couple visits + high test scores and it’s given the CA stamp of approval.

That sucks.  And if that’s the continued way that CA is going to keep “supporting” charter schools, then I think they should just stop.  They should shackle down our system and slow everything down if it means that all students can be somewhere safe.

Actually, I take that back. Because it would just be horrific to send my kids to some crazy, huge high school instead of a small charter high school.  Yet at the same time, there area really awful charters out there!  And the worse part is they have very LITTLE scrutiny because they’re a charter — district schools have way more hoops to jump through!  I mean, why can’t we just carefully provide more resources, continue the small-schools movement (a la Oakland), and maybe even go that hybrid-charter route (like ASCEND), and just.. grow?  Why can’t CA stop being lazy and giving lip service to kids and give an actual hoot about their wellbeing?

Okay fine. Support our charter schools. But maybe also have some sort of hotline that we can call for when schools are heinous.  And then drop by randomly and watch it all unfold.  And ban schools that pride itself in giving students 1 hour of homework per subject and promote teachers to principals in 2 years.  Oh wait, our whole nation’s doing that? And we think it’s promoting bright innovation into school leadership?

Just great.


PS: I realized these past few years, as I continue to keep up with my students that part of the reason why few parents and students ever complain at these  really awful charter schools is because they have nothing else to compare it to.  To them, it’s normal for them to not have any say in the school’s decision to not observe MLK day, or have Spring Break school, or make kids wash the floor with toothbrushes, or take shoes off of kids, or not let parents talk to the teacher.  And coincidentally, most of the teachers at such schools are really new to the state or to teaching… so they don’t realize what’s up until they leave too.  I’m looking at you, Amethod Public Schools and American Indian Public Charter Schools. Seriously. Makes my blood curdle.