Students Rising AboveBy Michelle Griego

by Michelle Griego and Jennifer Mistrot

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Teaching is a tough job even in the best of times, but with Covid-19, its challenges can seem overwhelming. Oakland middle school teacher Jasmine Mack understands this all too well.

School is in session for the 29-year-old Mack, but like many teachers, her classroom is empty. Virtual teaching during the pandemic has been a challenge for her students, as many live and learn in one of Oakland’s toughest neighborhoods.

“Yeah, definitely a little crazy,” said Mack. “It’s so easy for us to say like, ‘Oh, this person is behaving this way because of A, B and C,’ but it’s not until we take a step back…to look at this… from somebody else’s perspective and think, like, ‘How are they dealing and how are they adapting?'”

LEARN MORE: Students Rising Above

Mack’s deep empathy for her students, and her community, comes from experience. She was raised by her grandmother as her mom battled addiction and was in and out of Mack’s life. School became her social outlet.

“I think that at school I acted out for attention,” recalled Mack. “It was, like …’Oh, I have friends.’  Like it was a social zone for me because I needed to make up for, like, not having a mom.”

Academics were clearly not her main focus, and she didn’t like teachers. When one suggested to Mack that she consider becoming a teacher herself, Mack said “no way.”

“To be honest, I told her, like, I would never be a teacher,” recalled Mack. “I don’t even really like teachers … and I felt good saying that.”

So it’s kind of surprising that teaching is now her calling. A stint serving in Teach For America helped change her mind, along with encouragement she received from her own teachers.

“I grew to really love it,” recalled Mack.

And these days, Mack has much more to love than her chosen profession. She has a five-year-old son, and she has her mom who is now back in her life.

But it’s in her classroom with her students- virtual or not- where Mack has found peace and purpose, as she sees a little bit of herself in every student.

“I want you to be your best self. Like, how can we work together for us to be our best selves?” Mack will ask her students every day in class.

“I think that that’s part of, like, my role in the classroom is to say, like, ‘Hey, like, I come from a community like yours … I probably have some of the same experiences as you. I probably even know someone in your family … and so just making it relatable.”

Mack is also an advisor for Students Rising Above. She is currently helping five new high school-age scholars with their college plans. Mack says being an advisor is her way of giving back, both to her community as well as SRA.

Michelle Griego

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