Today is the last day of school for students in the Oakland Unified School District, and it also marks the end of a long year for student teacher Diana Arbas. We’ve been listening in on her radio diaries all week, as she struggled with classroom management and learned how to take better care of herself so she'd be prepared to help her 9th graders pass her class.
Now, it’s time to say goodbye to her students. We’ve got the final chapter in our series, as Diana recounts the final weeks of school and her kids finish reading Romeo and Juliet.
"It’s Wednesday, May 29. We’ve been reading Romeo and Juliet for a couple of weeks now and today we began talking about act 4..."
The themes are definitely themes that the kids can connect with – like rebellion from parents, young love, passionate love, violence, but it’s just...there was this language standing in the way. And they couldn’t...reading it in class just didn’t work. It didn’t work! It was just so boring for me and for them.
So the curriculum guidebook that I was working with was very much about experiencing Shakespeare by doing Shakespeare, performing Shakespeare.
"It’s Thursday, June 6, 12:15 pm. Today we rehearsed our Romeo and Juliet scenes. And there was some exciting stuff going on! I glanced at one group and they were doing Act 3 Scene 1, where Tybalt and Mercutio both die..."
There were certain students who were really into it, they were so into the acting! That was so cute to see. It was so adorable to watch these kids try these horrible British accents. We had sword fights in the classroom at the appropriate moments and I think the yardstick was definitely used, and I’d have to break up certain fights because they went on way too long and rambunctious, and a little too real! I’d say, “Ok! And scene!” You know?
"It’s Saturday, June 8. Yesterday was good! And oh my gosh, I feel like I kind of have the hang of it. But the last day is on Monday. We also have some goodbyes, well I was reflecting on this with my CT the other day, how do teachers say goodbye to their students at the end of the school year. I want to say goodbye because this was a special class. I hope most of them show up, I know a couple, two or three students haven’t been showing up, i haven’t seen them this marking period. And another one, she ran away from her group home, it sounded like. She seemed like a really nice person. I don’t know, but I don’t think she’s going to show up on Monday."
I think a lot of this year has been about living in contradiction and being comfortable with uncertainty and questions. That’s what I’ve realized, what I’ve continued to realize, is that there is so much I don’t know. And I would be a better teacher if I continued to educate myself about these larger things that I’m a part of. You know, I’m Filipino, I’m Filipino-American, and here I am, a person of color, teaching the colonial power’s language to other students of color. And I was so troubled by that, what am I doing? What am I participating in?
It is so important for us to know English, to know academic English, which is the language of power, we all need to know this in order to navigate this world with empowerment and agency. But what I’d love to do is figure out how to teach that without erasing the strengths that their homes and families have already? Can we do both?
So the lessons I’ve learned – I would say that it is so important to take care of yourself, to be strong in your personal life, happy and healthy, so that you can be strong at work. Another lesson I’ve learned was you need to lean on the people around you. Teaching is too hard to do by yourself! It’s too hard! Who thought up these movies with these teachers as Jesus Christ! Like, no, that is not what happens! That is not what happens. I had my CT the whole time, I don’t want to call her my training wheels because she is definitely a human being, but I am going to miss talking to her everyday!
"It’s Monday, June 10, 9pm. Today was my last day with the kids. My last day! I was not prepared for it. I mean, I was, I knew it was coming, in this distant, intellectual way. It just came so quickly, and yet not soon enough! It was a celebration of all the hard work we had done, but they were definitely restless and ready for summer, they have been for weeks, and I was just so tired."
"But they did something for me, and it was so sweet! That’s when I thought I was going to cry in there. One student pulled out a poster, I have it right here, this poster, she rolled it out and she said, “Ms. Arbas, this was my idea,” she made it a big point to tell me that. And I didn’t know what to say! I am so uncomfortable with goodbyes, I guess. I should’ve hugged her or something, right? But I got emotional, and I was no longer Ms. Arbas, I was just this terribly insecure student teacher who was just astonished that the kids thought I did ok."
“'Hi Ms. Arbas,' I am just reading their words, 'You are the first Filipino teacher I had in the U.S. And I’m so glad you taught us Romeo and Juliet anyways.' Here’s another student, 'I’m going to miss you girl!' Is that a way to talk to a teacher? (laughs) 'You are the best teacher,' really, guys? Really? There’s this one student, 'Thanks for teaching yous,' I think he meant us. These are funny notes to an English teacher, guys."
"I’m going to be a better teacher to future students. But I know I am not yet a strong teacher, I’m just a student teacher who’s survived. It’s funny because I left the classroom and one student said, “Don’t forget me.” I can’t forget her, I can’t forget any of them. They are my first students. My first ones."
Diana’s teacher diaries were produced by Martina Castro with help from Alyssa Kapnik. They were edited by Casey Miner. Thanks to Ashleyanne Krigbaum, Maya de Paula Hanika, Mary Willis and Karen Gordon for recording and transcribing, and a very special thank you to Diana Arbas and Oakland High School.