Linda Green: “This Strike Is Mostly About The Kids.”

by Alex Walsh

Linda Green is a music teacher in the Oakland Unified School District. She teaches violin, viola, and cello to every 4th and 5th grader at Cleveland Elementary, and every 3rd, 4th, and 5th grader at Thornhill Elementary. She has over 300 students. Originally from Toledo, Ohio Linda performed in Europe and Asia during her nine year tenure as the Assistant Principal violist of the Orquestra Nacional do Porto (Portugal), where she also played in the Quarteto Jacob and performed many solo recitals and other chamber music. She has lived in the Bay Area since 2001, where she co-founded both the Home of United String Ensembles (HOUSE) and the Oakland Symphony sponsored MUSE VIVO Orchestra. Linda is currently Principal violist of the Vallejo Symphony.

How has the strike affected you?
I feel like this strike is mostly about the kids. I was teaching 3rd grade general music when they went from class size 20 to class size 32. It was a huge shift. Having 20 kids is manageable, but 32? It becomes about crowd control. That’s a big part of this strike that people have to understand–it’s not just about pay raises! It’s not fair for kids to be in a class of 32. You don’t learn as much, and you don’t learn as well. I’m glad both of the schools I teach in have decided to have every kid play, but 32 is a lot for a beginning class. All those kids in a small space—bows everywhere. I do my best to give them individual attention. I tune their instruments, I check their bow holds, that kind of thing. I might say, “How are you doing, how’s the cat? Oh, you don’t have a cat, you have a dog.” It’s a lot.

Linda and teacher Mary Loeser on-strike at Cleveland Elementary in Oakland, CA.

How do you balance teaching and playing?
I feel like I have a clear separation of church and state in my life—I have my teaching self and my playing self. All my playing friends say they don’t know how I do it. Basically, I still want to keep playing. I carve out two hours everyday to practice. That time is sacred. If people call I’ll say, ‘Oh, I’m practicing, I’ll call you back.’ That’s the only way I can do it. I’m usually dead tired but it keeps me playing and that’s important to me. Also, if I’m practicing and I tell the kids to practice, I’m not a hypocrite. I tell them, ‘I have to practice and so do you!’

I’m very lucky because here at Cleveland Elementary we have help from the Oakland Symphony Muse Program. Mentors come in several times a year and it’s a big, big help.

What do they do?
Carla Picci comes and she has different ideas on how to hold the bow that might help some kids who might not get the way I have them do it. She chips in–if I need someone to play the piano, she plays the piano. If she plays violin then I play the piano, it’s great. Beth Vandervenet is a huge help with my cello students. She runs the string festival we have every year which brings kids froms all around the district to play together. That’s through the Oakland Symphony as well. I also co-conduct the MUSE Vivo Orchestra. It’s an orchestra for middle and high schoolers sponsored by the Oakland Symphony as a bridge between your school orchestra and the Oakland Youth Orchestra. We’re now starting to see more Oakland students in the Oakland Youth Orchestra because they’re getting a little extra support.

In February, the Oakland Symphony invited the pianist Emanuel X to come to Thornhill and I decided to have my Cleveland kids go over there as a field trip. Michael Morgan, who is my work boss in the Oakland Symphony, was there, ALL of my kids were there, and Emanuel X was onstage. It was just like WHOA! This is amazing! And then they all played Twinkle, Twinkle together and it was almost as if you could hear the roof lift off. It was pretty amazing.