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Diana Diaries, Part 1: A lesson in teaching from a first-time instructor

Karen Gordon

Diana Arbas, 27, is a student teacher at Oakland High School. She’s in a masters program at Mills College, where in order to earn her degree, she has to tackle a real classroom. Diana has the guidance of a more experienced teacher, known as a Cooperating Teacher, but the goal is for her to be able to stand on her own.

Oakland’s a hard city to teach in. Oakland High is in East Oakland. The student body is made up of kids with very diverse backgrounds, many from the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Not all come to the ninth grade ready to tackle that level of work.

“When I first started out I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t expect that students would come in not knowing basic things,” says Diana. “Like you sit in the seat that’s assigned to you, you write your name on every assignment, and when an assignment is done in class you complete it.”

This is Diana’s radio diary of her first year teaching at Oakland High in a ninth grade English class. You’ll hear what was challenging and what was inspiring. For example, on Diana’s first day, she spent some time looking at photos of students on the walls of the main office – all students of color, like herself. Diana is Filipino and the daughter of immigrants. In that moment, before she ever met her students, she understood what it might mean for them to see her as a leader.

“To be the English teacher who stands at the front of the class and looks out at these faces that look like mine and share my experience too, and just say I’m your English teacher, and my parents are immigrants, too,” says Diana, “I was just so moved, just standing in the main office.”

This week, as school wraps up in Oakland, we’ll be sharing Diana’s real-time diary of her first year, along with her reflections on what that year has been like. Click above to hear the first installment.

Diana’s teacher diaries were produced by Martina Castro with help from Alyssa Kapnik. They were edited by Casey Miner. Thanks to Ashleyanne Krigbaum, Maya de Paula Hanika, Mary Willis and Karen Gordon for recording and transcribing, and a very special thank you to Diana Arbas and Oakland High School.