Tag Archives: education

to my dear 24-year-old david (from 36-year-old david),

i know you’re in the midst of the hardest year of your life thus far.  it’s your first year of teaching…in the hood of south los angeles.  you probably don’t have much time to spare, so let’s just get right down to it.  

none of your friends or family, well meaning as they are, understand what you’re experiencing right now.  i do. because i’m you 12 years later.  your world is being turned upside down.  you’ve come from a quiet asian american middle class life.  and let’s be honest, nothing has really prepared you for this.  you are experiencing the brokenness of what poverty does to young hearts and minds on a daily basis; poverty that you didn’t even acknowledge existed right in your backyard.  you can’t escape it because it’s your job to face it and try to teach in the midst of it every day.  you are being smacked in the face with the reality that public education in the u.s. is neither equal nor fair…and most of society has turned it’s back on this corner of l.a. because it’s easier to ignore than to deal with.  you’ve never seen this sort of institutionalized dysfunction.  you’ve never experienced so much hate thrown at you.  you’ve never had to work to the point of exhaustion…not just physically but emotionally.

press in.

don’t escape.  i know it’s hard.  i know it’s hell.  but don’t give up.  these very years will be what builds in you a character of perseverance.  these very youth will be the ones that break your heart in the best kind of way to get you to really consider what matters to the heart of God.  but most of all these very experiences will be what opens your eyes to the fact that you desperately need God every day.    

press in.

yes, some of these students will ignore you, some of them will curse at you, some of them will even push you. consider that it’s not so much that they hate you personally but that they will project upon you all the pain and confusion they have experienced at the hands of adults that were supposed to care for them.  if you are going to follow your role model, Jesus, remember He loved those that didn’t love Him back well…and remember that is you, that is us.  

press in.

yes, i know you’re lonely and REALLY wish you had a girlfriend.  but think about it, is that really going to solve your problems?  if anything you’re either gonna escape HARD into this girl or you’re gonna treat her like crap because you’ve got nothing left to give or both.  no woman, no matter how awesome, is going to be in the classroom with you and give you what you need to stand in love and power in the midst of this.  only an infinite God can do that.  yes, a girlfriend’s nice (and yes she will come to you and you’ll marry her and she’ll be pretty rad) but now is not the time…there’s some inner growth in your relationship with Jesus that needs to happen before that or else you’re gonna wreck two people in the process.  and Lord knows we don’t need any more brokenness.

press in.

the work you’re doing now will prepare you for the work i’m doing now (aka the work you will be doing in the future).  this work you’re in now is going to lay the groundwork for and open doors that you’ve never even considered of God’s vision for justice; it will help you see the Word of God in a whole new light…even if i tried to explain it to you now i don’t think you’d understand or appreciate it without what you’re going to experience in the next couple of years.  with that said, i think there are a couple of things you could understand at this time.  

1) david, if you’re serious about disciple-making and leadership development you can’t do it remotely.  at least not effectively. Jesus spent TIME with his disciples and you can’t expect to walk with those you are leading if you don’t even live in the same neighborhood with them.  and that’s how leaders are developed…not just through teaching…it’s through living.  

2) lastly, you need a mentor if you’re going to mentor.  not just a mentor that reflects your experience.  have some humility to recognize you don’t know it all and you can’t do it by yourself.  you need a mentor who has experience loving and walking amongst the least of these, because that’s where you will find Jesus (Matthew 25:40).  sadly, there aren’t that many asian american men that are doing this work, so it’s not like you have a lot of choice…you’re gonna have to be mentored cross-race.  it’ll be awkward at first but don’t let your pride get in the way of your growth to learn from someone different than you.          

press in.  because Jesus did for you.  

easier said than done: “the myth of the extraordinary teacher”

it is hard for me to write about my experience teaching in a public school…not only because people who haven’t had the experience don’t really understand (not that people aren’t well meaning, its just that many people have assumptions about the profession since we’ve pretty much all been in the classroom with a teacher at one point or another) but because, especially living in america, it is so closely tied to my person.  this idea that teaching is an art rather than a skill…that how one teaches is their personality and who they are, not simply their method (which is a very american perspective i’ve learned).  and so it hurts all the more to be criticized in this area… i know i shouldn’t be.  i have been learning that we ought not tie our self worth to the work we do…work was never meant to fulfill us that way…it is a never-ending cycle…we can never do enough.  i need to remind myself of truths such as Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

the ideal
the reality

i came across this article in the la times (thanks to both my smarty wife and our fellow education academic friend) today…i was like “right on!”  it really captured some of my sentiments well.  then i decided to read some of the comments.  i was shocked and appalled…confirming some of my suspicions of how deeply misunderstood and dishonored the modern urban teacher is in america, not to mention the inner city classroom.  not that people in any other profession don’t work as hard or face various injustices…its just that this profession, in general, is under a lot of fire (and simultaneously under massive budget cuts) with the worst being assumed about the teacher: schools and students are failing…it must be the teacher’s fault.    as i read some of the comments i had very visceral reactions…like i was being cut with a knife…i felt my blood boiling and my body shaking.   i even posted the following comment on the article in response to some of the comments:

***

“Thank you for sharing this.  Despite what the teacher bashers (who have never been teachers) say, as a fellow teacher who taught in an inner city school for 8 years (both under LAUSD and Charter), I’ve had many of the same concerns.  If I am reading Ms. Herman correctly, she is not excluding herself from responsibility, she is merely pointing out the faulty assumptions to a simplistic solution. 

Before jumping to conclusions about this teacher, please consider that:

1.) she works for a school that has been recognized for incredible gains in test scores (CBEE, EPIC).   The home school of these students, Jefferson, had an API score of 548 whereas the school she works at (servicing the same community), has an API score of 788

2). she works at a charter school that isn’t backed by an all-powerful union meaning if she is in fact a bad teacher she can indeed be fired because there is no tenure there. 

Yes, many of us work hard at various jobs, but particularly in this job its workers are guilty until proven innocent.  Maybe, this is rightly so, but is it too forward of me to think this may not be the case for Ms. Herman?  Education is a complex issue.  The responsibility lies with all of us (from parent, to student, to teacher, to admin, to government, to citizens) if we indeed live in a democratic society that aims to provide public education that is integrated, equal, and just.”

***

wow, it is so hard not to take such things personally as a teacher.  i realize that i am so shielded by my bubble of friends and family who value the work of a teacher in the inner-city…so i am very fortunate.  but i also realize that there will always be critics, and usually the uninformed are the loudest

Now please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not looking for pity or trying to position my self above genuine constructive criticism (which is a tremendous folly).  These thoughts are more an explanation of what’s going on inside my head rather than a justification for my attitudes. if anything, i recognize the need to open myself up to a more unflinching view of my self and the profession to which I have dedicated almost a decade of my life. there will be people who misunderstand.   there will be people who criticize (well meaning or not, informed or not).  there are plenty of people who work harder than i do, with less benefit and thanks.  there are people i can and must learn from.  there are real problems with how i view and do my teaching.  God, grant me the right perspective…one that is big, one that is long, one that is honest.  i am reminded of this quote by mother teresa: “if you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”   God may I be humble.

where my wife and i will be for the next two years (or more)…

So, I have been working in the inner city of LA for 8 years now, as a high school teacher. What has brought me here and kept me here for this long is the conviction to serve the under-served in life – that there are unjust things in this world and as far as I am given the grace to do so, it is my duty as a human being to do something about that. It has been quite a journey…it has not been easy. In fact it has been consuming.

Nevertheless, especially this year, I have felt the limits of my work. There are still too many students who are fighting me and cursing me out as I try to help them in the classroom. I have talked with my co-workers about it too. We are pouring out so much of our time and lives, but are we really making a difference…an impact in the inner city? Of course people can say we are doing something (my school has undergone major transformation and has made great gains in test scores) and that the fruit of a teacher’s work is not seen until years later. But we are still so far behind. We are still losing students to the cycle of despair, drugs, violence, and the life of the streets.  Our young dads are still making children and leaving them unfathered. Our young students are still getting in trouble with the law. Our students’ families are still experiencing such brokenness and instabilty. I feel like we’re just putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound. Our young students need so much more. I want to do more. Yet, I still live in a different community and I still go to church in yet another community. About two years ago I also got married.  I want to start a family…which will have its own set of needs.

With all this brewing in my mind and heart I was seeking out something different, I just didn’t know what. Then a friend of ours studying educational leadership laid out a crazy idea: for inner-city schools to be changed, the middle class needs to move back into the inner city (not to gentrify but to share resources).  Sounded good…but insane. Would we send our own children to an inner-city school?  What is most important?  We started sharing this idea to our other friends.  It got us thinking.

Before we knew it, we were actually considering it, and praying about it. But we felt alone…and totally unprepared. Around February a friend of ours, who knew we were interested in urban service, invited us out to spot in LA’s Eastside where some one would be sharing about the work that he was a part of in that community.

We went. We saw. We heard. There was a team of people living, working, and serving…all in the same neighborhood. People in the community were being empowered and stepping up to make a difference…in ways that were not someone else’s agenda but were their very own convictions. Everything we were talking about was coming together right in front of us.

Now several months later, we have already found a new place to live in this community, we have let our church know that we are moving to a different church in this community, I have already put in my notice that I will not be returning next year to my school, and must now look for a new job near this community.

Here’s where we’re headed and why:

WHAT: I will begin a two-year unpaid internship which will basically be like a 2 year mission trip where my wife and I will have jobs in the community. The internship starts with a 3 week trip to an urban slum in the Philippines.

WHO: Servant Partners – a mission ministry with a focus on the urban poor of the world

WHERE: Lincoln Heights, in LA’s Eastside

– near where the 10 and 5 freeways meet, right behind the LA County / USC hospital

– it is among the lowest in median household incomes in LA city and county ($31,000)

– it is among the lowest in % of residents with a 4 yr degree in LA city and county (6%)

HOW:

1) we will be living in Lincoln Heights, with a team of at least 3 other interns

2) we will be attending a church in Lincoln Heights (a church plant of Servant Partners and Epicentre Pasadena called Epicentre Community Church *New Life Community Church as of fall of 2014)

3) we will be working in LA’s Eastside  (my wife will continue to work at Cal State LA as a professor / I need to find a job, one with a little less hours <would appreciate prayers, in this regard especially>, as I will also be taking classes twice a week to learn about urban poor ministry)

WHEN: Starting August 19th, 2011 (Philippines from 8/24-9/12) to Summer 2013

WHY (for the 2 years): We are hoping through this process, amongst many things, to

a) see if urban poor ministry is something for us

b) see if full time ministry is something for me

WHY (what God has been laying on our hearts through His Word):

1) Christ has led us to love the city: Loving Los Angeles (Jer 29:4-7)

2) Christ has led us to care for those in need: Social Justice (Isaiah 58, James 2:5-8)

3) Christ has led us to share our lives: Incarnation for understanding and discipleship (Heb 13:11-14)

HOW WE CAN PARTNER TOGETHER:

– my wife and I need to raise about $5600 (for the 3 week mission trip to the Philippines for my wife and I, as well as for my ministry education for the next 2 years)

if you’re led to give financially please make checks payable to “Servant Partners” with “Intern: Kitani” written in the memo line and send the check to: Servant Partners P.O. Box 3144, Pomona, CA 91769

– We need your prayers!! Also let us know how to pray for you!!

– Let’s keep in touch (updates, encouragements, and prayer requests)!

Email: dkitani at gmail dot com

Blog: (subscribe to this one!)

*updated 16.12.07