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Monday, August 15, 2016

For White Teachers that Teach in the Hood. . .Perspective

Chris Emdin wrote the book, For White Folks that Teach in the Hood and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education, to help educators like me teach all students, particularly urban youth, well. I bought the book months ago when it was first published, and have finally found the time to read it with care. I will probably read a chapter a day because the book is deep and has a lot to teach me.

When I read of the book, I knew I wanted to buy it. I heard Emdin speak many years ago at the Educon Conference at The Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. You can always count on Chris Lehmann, Science Leadership Academy's Leader, and Educon to open your eyes and provide you with new ways to see and perform your work as an educator. And, when I heard Emdin speak, that's what he did for me.

Then, in the last few years, I've paid closer attention to cultural proficiency and the many ways I can reach out to teach all students better. I've made progress, but I haven't been satisfied with the efforts to include students most distanced from success in school--students for whom, I believe, we can do a better job. Our urban youth, students who travel from Boston out to the suburbs every day to learn, stand amongst the students I want to serve better. That's why I'm reading Emdin's book--I want to apply his expertise and approach.

Chapter one immediately gives me great ideas to use as I improve my craft to better serve my urban youth and all students. First, he affirms the fact that we have to co-construct our teaching/learning environments with students. This co-construction which he describes as reality pedagogy is one way to make sure that every child's culture, perspective, emotions, needs, and interests are included in the curriculum. By co-constructing the teaching/learning environment, we push our preconceived notions about individual students aside, and allow those students to describe themselves and what they need.

How can I apply this perspective and effort into my classroom? First, I need to s-l-o-w down the classroom in order to give greater voice and choice to all students. When the classroom runs too fast, there isn't time to listen to a child's perspective or to hear what each individual student truly needs to succeed. Next, I need to employ lots of open-ended learning efforts at the start of the year to give students a chance to show who they are and what's important to them. And, I can't jump to conclusions quickly or climb the inference ladder as some would say. Instead, I have to take the time to let a child tell his/her story. Finally, I can't group students by race, culture, religion, gender, but instead see every child as the individual he/she is.

Further Emdin prompts us to get out and get to know the neighborhoods and communities our students live in. I want to explore this further and will work with my colleagues, students, and their families in this regard. How can I do this? For starters, I may make some time to have lunch with small groups of students and talk about places they like to play, foods they enjoy, friends, and good times. Then I'd like to make an effort to visit students' neighborhoods.

Emdin's book is a must-read for every teacher because it teaches us how to better teach every child, and gives us a guide to teaching urban youth with sensitivity, personalization, and respect. I collected a number of specific quotes and connections in the Storify below. One connection is a TedX talk given by an urban youth that attended our suburban school--it's a thought provoking talk. I'll continue to post as I read chapter-by-chapter. In the meantime, if you have anything to add, don't hesitate to let me know.

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Chapters 2 & 3 Reflections