by Jennifer Mistrot and Michelle Griego
OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — First-grade teacher Tanesha Walker recently saw her new classroom for the very first time. The moment was met first with silence, then joy as she realized the room would be hers to decorate as she pleased.
“I am super excited,” said Walker with a warm and hearty laugh as she surveyed her new room. “I just can’t wait to see my own wall space!”
The nearly empty walls are a welcome sight for Walker. This is her first year at Oakland’s Aspire Berkley Maynard Academy, and because of COVID-19, she has never seen her students face to face.
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The situation has been a virtual learning curveball she never expected when she decided to become a teacher. Distance learning is something she worries about, especially for underserved students and students of color who may not have equal access to much-needed technology.
“There is a digital divide and, like, how do you reach all kids?” said Walker. “Like, I know teaching is different from back in the day, you just taught one way, but every student is a different learner. So how are you reaching each of those students in a virtual world?”
Her students’ success the primary concern for Walker, and that’s no surprise because caring for others has always been a key part of who she is. When KPIX 5 first met Walker, she was a high school class leader, honor student, and math whiz.
But her success came with a struggle. Walker’s parents were unable to care for her, so her grandmother raised her. A teenage Walker was grateful for her grandmother’s loving home but saddened by her own parent’s actions, at the time telling KPIX 5 she questioned her own self-worth.
“Like, did you not want me?” Walker asked back then of her own parents’ intentions. “What was the reason behind it?”
But Walker had a lot of love and laughter during her teen years, too. Her happy place at that time was the West Oakland Boys and Girls Club, where she taught and mentored countless other kids. And now she’s back in Oakland teaching. For Walker, it is truly a dream come true.
And as Aspire staff greeted parents in the school’s parking lot, handing out meals and distance learning packets for kids who are out of the classroom, Walker dreamt of getting back inside its doors permanently and seeing her students safely in person for the very first time. She hopes they will all understand why it’s taken so long. And that everyone will emerge from this pandemic a little kinder towards one another.
“You just see the things about how people are saying teachers are selfish for not going back to school,” observed Walker. ” [And teachers are] understanding [that] parents are working from home. I just think we need to emphasize the empathy within the world that we’re all going through this. We’re all learning new things. Your teachers are learning new things.”