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Teacher Retention A Major Motive Behind Oakland Strike

OAKLAND (KPIX) -- One of the main sticking points in the Oakland teacher strike is over teacher salaries. The union blames the low wages for OUSD's poor retention rate.

Many teachers say they leave the district because of high stress and low pay.

First year Oakland High School teacher Roxanne Clement told KPIX she rather be in class than on the picket line. She worries about a student who struggles with depression.

ALSO READ: Parents' Survival Guide For Oakland Teachers Strike

"She talked about having suicidal thoughts," said the public health teacher. "So I have a student ongoing that I have to keep in my head. Is she's going to be okay? Why is she not in school?"

Clement said she has another student who refuses to put the phone away.  It's always on her desk.

"Found out she was taking care of her siblings and that was her way of contacting them. Allow them to reach her, essentially like a parent.  She's 15 and has the responsibility of a parent," said Clement.

Monica Linzner is a third year teacher at Castlemont High School in East Oakland. She told KPIX that many teachers buy food and clothes for some of their students.  She mentioned she has "a student this year who was kicked out of the house, was commuting to Castlemont from a group home."

ALSO READ: KPIX 5 Reporter Remembers 1996 Oakland School Strike

Many students in East Oakland come to school with trauma and housing and food insecurity. As a result, teachers say they wear many hats as counselors, psychologists, and mentors. That stress adds up fast, making the turnover rate very high.

"My second year, I was the special education department chair because there was no one else left," said Clarissa Chan-Lee, a sixth year teacher at Castlemont High School.

71.5 percent of new teachers leave Oakland Unified within five years, according to a GO Public Schools report. Educators say the low retention rate creates a vicious cycle.

Teachers have a hard time getting the students to buy in to their lessons and students can't trust or build relationships with teachers because of the revolving door.

"Out of a staff of about 44 to 48 or so, we had to hire for 26 new positions two school years ago," said Carolyn Delfino, a fourth year teacher at Fremont High School in East Oakland.

Despite their heavy work load, Oakland teachers also make some of the lowest wages in the East Bay. Delfino works a second job and has a roommate.

"I'll be 37 [years old] soon, I don't think it's too much to ask to be able to afford to live alone and have a one-bedroom apartment," said Delfino.

As for Clement, she's not sure if she'll be part of the high turnover statistic.

"I don't know, I don't know where I'll be in five years," said Clement.

Teachers say increasing their salaries alone won't help the situation. They need more student support services and smaller class sizes to help struggling students. They believe that will then make their job and work load more manageable.

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