Nhi Truong is a second year Teaching Fellow in Oakland, California.
I moved back to Oakland after college because I wanted to do my part in fighting educational inequity in my community.
For my first two years of high school, I went to a public school in Alameda, a pretty well-off island right next to Oakland. The last two years of high school, I attended a public school in West Oakland called McClymonds High School. My experience in those two very different environments taught me a lot about the structural racism and economic injustice that the Oakland community faces. Even though those two communities are really close in distance, one school has access to all sorts of resources and opportunities like a librarian, student government, clubs, and after school programs, and the other did not.
My classmates and I at McClymonds didn’t see education as a strong asset for the future because we weren’t given the resources like clubs and afterschool programs that would help us make that connection. Instead, I depended a lot on a few teachers and leaders in the community. They helped me get through school and showed me how important and necessary it is to go to college and give back.
I was the first one in my family to go to college. It was a tough transition leaving Oakland, where most of my friends came from low-income families from all different racial backgrounds. There were many moments in class when I felt like I did not belong due to my background, but I convinced myself that this is where I, and my folks from Oakland, need to be. We belong in universities. I was determined to bring more students like me into college. Students from communities like Oakland need someone to show them that they are powerful and loved and amazing--and that they deserve to go to college too.
I had never worked with middle school students, but I was excited to have the opportunity to work with students at this very special age, when the right resources can make the difference for them for the rest of their lives. I remember when I was in 5th grade, new to America, and a teacher named Mr. Nguyen was like a father figure to me. Not only did he make school fun, he showed me that he really cared about me and every single student in his classroom. He inspired me to become a teacher and show the same love he has given me to all my students. I still keep in contact with him now.
But I was lucky. Thousands of kids like me didn’t get those connections. That’s the reason why I want to be there for my students. I see myself being like Mr. Nguyen when I crack jokes that he used to use, and I’m strict when I need to be like he was. Drawing on the opportunities I was given motivates me to be a better teacher.
I feel like so often people from my community don’t always come back once they get the opportunity to leave and pursue different opportunities. But I was excited to come back to “the hood.” I am constantly reminded of Tupac & Professor Jeff Ducan Andrade’s theory of roses in concrete. Once you’ve been nurtured in the garden, it’s important to take what you’ve experienced back to the streets to pull the other roses out of the concrete.
If it weren’t for the leaders who came back to help me, I might not be where I am today. I want my students to see themselves in me the way that I saw myself in leaders like Mr. Nguyen.
I want them to know that we may not have the same struggles, but if I can make it, they can make it. And I’m here to let them know how powerful and beautiful they all are.