By Mika Yamamoto
This blog post was prepared by Mika Yamamoto in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view or experiences of Chat with Teachers or Jennifer Khadir, the owner and host of Chat with Teachers. Guest blogs are a further expression of personal teacher narratives – which is the mission of Chat with Teachers in providing a platform for teacher voice.
Ruben, my sixth-grade student, tells me about the mountains. There was snow there, and he’d never seen snow before then. He couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. “Write that,” I say. For the rest of the period, he wrote. That evening, I searched through my poetry books and dreamed about nurturing a poet.
But the next day, he was not at school. Nor the next. The day he came back, he was present only in body. I decided to go home with him. Do a visit.
Most students walked to school. Ruben took the bus. I got on the bus with him. It took a long time, with several transfers. By the time we got to his stop, I had to turn around without doing a visit—already late for daycare pick-up. Alone on the bus, I felt despair. How could I help him, when he faced so much before getting to school? He didn’t come to school again the next day. A few days later, I got a notice that he was transferred out of the school. When I asked why, the office staff just shrugged. Children transferred in and out of school all the time, it wasn’t a notable event. Except, it was.
I was a Solo Mom by then, raising two young children with no support. I had left an abusive marriage—a dangerous thing to do—and lived in fear of his revenge. I lived in constant anxiety of predatory men too, as a small Asian woman in a city famous for objectifying women. I struggled to pay both rent and daycare. One day, I caught a cold, and began to cough. The cough wouldn’t go away, and at night I had trouble breathing. I had insurance, but it was an HMO. I couldn’t get in for weeks. By the time I got to a doctor, I had walking pneumonia and bronchitis.
Around this time, Child Protective Services was called on me, because my daughter, who was three, woke-up one night and left the apartment looking for me. The apartment manager found her. She brought my daughter back to me in a rage. What kind of mother are you? I had been dead asleep next to my daughter when she woke up. The door had been locked, but my daughter unlocked it. CPS advised me to put a chain lock on the door, which was sensible. But still. What kind of mother was I? This same daughter was in an accident soon after. She fell out of a window and was in ICU for two days. I sat next to her alone, crying.
That’s when I left teaching and Los Angeles. I was spread too thin. There were too many needs of my students that were not taken care of, there were too many of my own children’s needs that weren’t taken care of, there were too many of my own needs that weren’t taken care of. I loved my job, and I loved my students, but that was not enough.
A teacher’s passion is not enough.
I moved to a community that was affordable, with many social services. We had access to a mental health center that assigned us a case manager who helped me qualify for childcare and energy subsidy. We received free therapy too.
I took a job as an emergency department technician. Here, I had good insurance. The hospital also gave employee discounts. I never walked around sick again, nor did my children. We seldom missed work or school.
The director of the department was an amazing administrator. She accommodated my need to shorten my shift—then did everything in her powers to recognize my value and increase my pay. The result was that while I worked less hours, I made the department run the most efficiently it ever had. My boss also modeled caring of her employees as people, and my workplace was my family. When any one of us was in need, we all came together; we rallied for each other. No hardship was faced alone.
I was a Solo Mom for eight years. The years when I had the medical, emotional, community, physical, and administrative support—my children and I thrived. I was the same person the entire eight years, but I was a much more productive member of society when my support was great.
So what does this mean for education? If we want passionate teachers to thrive in the classroom, we must recognize that teachers are people, and they need to be taken care of. I had to leave the classroom because I was a woman who had to survive domestic violence and parent alone. I was a woman whose needs were not taken care of, and therefore I could not be the teacher I wanted to be. I am not the only one. When we consider that ¾ of teachers are women, it is not hard to see that women’s issues are deeply connected to educational ones.
In addition, when we know that one in four children will be raised without a father and 40% of them are living below poverty line (of which my own children were both), it is not hard to see that we need to care about mothers if we care about children.
If we have a society that respects women and makes them a priority, then children will be taken care of and educated. If children are taken care of and educated, society will flourish.
Click here to check out a teacher podcast interview with Mika.