12 August 2009

Modern Ms. Barrett

It was my former roommate who first told me about Bel Kaufman's "Up the Down Staircase." I was a student teacher at Cal who always came home with stories about the state of public education in California. My roommate gave me a copy of the book, and I noticed that it seemed not too much had changed in education since the book's publication in 1965. The protagonist, Sylvia Barrett, was a young white teacher determined to make a difference in her New York City students' lives. At the time, I liked to think I was a little less naive than Ms. Barrett. Almost tongue in cheek, I named my blog after her. It was a way to journal about my life as a first-year teacher in Oakland and also a place to develop ideas for the Master's Thesis I was writing that same year.

It's been four years since the blog was born with little updating in the subsequent three years that have passed. Looking back, I see I was more like Ms. Barrett than I cared to recognize. I had good intentions, a soft heart, and white skin. And like Ms. Barrett, I thought about quitting a lot. The difference, I dare say, is that I was more aware of my white privilege than Ms. Barrett. I was less interested in teaching children Chaucer than I was about getting my students motivated to fight the system (even as they might see me as a symbol of that system).

So, despite my development as a teacher and the fact that I'll begin my fifth year in Oakland and my eighth year in teaching in two weeks, the moniker of this blog will remain the same. Hopefully in thinking of Ms. Barrett, I can remember to be kind and patient with myself as I continue to grow into my role. This year I hope to write less about the classroom struggles and more about my widening perspective on public education in general. I welcome comments and suggestions along the way because, as I always tell my students "None of us is as smart as all of us together."


  1. Jill - how awesome to encounter your work here - Melissa just sent over the link - you are such an amazing writer -and I look forward to reading your blog on a regular basis. You are addressing really important issues. Hope that you are doing well personally - I still have the poem that you left behind here in St. Michaels. Warmest Regards, Joni Doolin

  2. Thanks so much Joni. I can't believe you still have a poem I wrote before I really wrote poetry! That was 1996, I believe... Thanks for following the blog :-)