I met Joe by happenstance on the shore of the Eel River. As we discussed tubing and whether or not there were eels in the river, I came to learn that Joe is a Bay Area native who’s passionate about teaching San Francisco’s children. Since that first introduction, I have come to be inspired by Joe’s passion for children, for ensuring their education reaches beyond the books and believing that his job is to be their teacher and their advocate — making sure each student has that one caring adult. Here’s to the lucky youngsters who have Mr. Siedman this new school year.
Q: Where do you teach?
A: I teach at Alamo Elementary School in the Richmond District.
Q: Tell me about the students.
A: I have 30 students in my fourth grade class, 14 boys and 16 girls. Five of those students are designated English language learners. My class is made up of a wide range of ethnic background including Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, Ukrainian, Mexican, European-American, Japanese, and many students with mixed ethnicities.
Q: Why did you become a teacher?
A: I became a teacher because I enjoy working with children and have always found an interest in child development. I was not sure what field I wanted to go into, so I started volunteering at an elementary school in San Francisco. I fell in love with the idea that teachers get to work with 30 new students every year, impacting them not only in their academic lives, but socially. The elementary years are critical for developing self identity and awareness, I wanted to play a role in creating a positive atmosphere for students to grow and achieve.
Q: Teachers are expected play so many roles, how do you balance it all?
A: Each student has very different needs. Those who come from healthy and supportive households tend to require less discipline and advocacy, while other students might not have anyone who is caring for them and ensuring they have the basic necessities to be happy and healthy. It takes time to develop relationships with the students and their families, to find out what they need. After that, it is up to us to reach out and find the support. I balance it by prioritizing basic needs — a child isn’t going to be able to focus on adding fractions if they haven’t eaten a meal in two days.
Q: Why is it important for teachers to be vigilant about noticing & reporting suspected abuse?
A: Most kids don’t realize they are in an abusive situation at a young age, so we must be their advocate. There are also families that are not aware of the support systems available to them, so we must build that bridge.
Q: How often do you report suspected abuse?
A: In my six years of teaching I have made two reports.
Q: How do you think we as a community can prevent child abuse?
A: We prevent abuse by bringing representatives from organizations like the Prevention Center into schools and classrooms to discuss with students what abuse is, and what they can do if they feel they are being abused. Again, I don’t think most young kids who are in abusive situations know they are being abused.
Q: What are you most passionate about?
A: Watching young kids enjoy learning and being around their peers.
Q: If you could ensure that future generations learned one thing, what would it be?
A: That everyone deserves to be safe, happy, and loved.
Q: What makes you angry / sad?
A: Seeing young kids falling through the cracks of our education system. Treating students like another number on the list. Teachers not being respected as professionals. Seeing the inequity in our schools and communities.
Q: What makes you hopeful / happy?
A: Greeting my students every morning. Watching them grow and develop throughout the year. Seeing them smile when they play, and focused while they work. Imagining them as adults appreciating the people who helped them along the way and returning the favor to the next generation.
Q: What’s the funniest thing a student ever said to you?
A: “Where do you sleep at school?”