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The book is a lifesaver.
I must admit that when I received For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Ya’ll Too from my new job as the required teacher read for the summer, my feelings were those of ambivalent indignation.
Why? Do I not respect the cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds of my students? I absolutely do, in both words and actions.
Yet, as I alluded to in “I Just Finished Reading” when I hear “white folks,” I hear it in as a pejorative phrase, which it is. Emdin supports his use of it as an allusion to Langston Hughes’s The Ways of White Folks, “stories that revolve around interactions between white and black people that can only be described as unfortunate cultural clashes…Hughes constructs a context where the societally sanctioned power that white people have over black people results in…overall outcomes that are largely unfavorable for the black characters” (15). And I can wrap my head around that, but still why the need to set up an us v. them, or an either/or paradigm? How can one bridge cultural and ethnic divides by setting up a confrontation before one even opens up the book?
In my head, I bristled, Why does this have to be an exclusively-white-person problem? I’m not this type of educator. Other white educators I know aren’t either. Weren’t there also educators from minority backgrounds who failed to connect with “neoindiginous” students? Why did the narrative have to make me feel like the oppressor who for generations has deprived students of color the basic opportunity of a quality education?
Then, I had my Aha! moment. Well, actually the first of a few.
I’ve been working on becoming a better educator this summer, and part of that process is reading books with that specific goal in mind.
I’ve mentioned Dr. Christopher Emdin’s ‘For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Ya’ll Too,” which I will be expounding on later this week.
Now, I’m just about to put Dr. Carol S. Dweck’s Mindset to bed, of which my reading has coincided nicely with the Responsive Classroom workshop I attended last week. And one quote in particular from Marva Collins stuck with me because I’ve felt it in every school where I’ve taught, even in interacting with educators with whom I’ve never taught or even ones who have taught me:
A good teacher is one who continues to learn along with the students. And she let her students know that right up front: ‘Sometimes I don’t like other grown-ups very much because they think they know everything. I don’t know everything. I can learn all the time.
That’s really powerful stuff that I intend to comment on at greater length as I ease my way back into a regular work schedule. In the short-term, whereas Emdin’s only seems to make sense for educators, Dweck’s anecdotes in Mindset appear applicable to all humans. She’s talking about thinking approaches that yield success or failure in realms, such as school, business, home, and sports; he’s talking about the psyche of urban youths, the understanding of them, and the supporting of them in their success.
Read it for no one other than yourself.
NB: Two educational books.
And a four day workshop.
I’m developing again.
Originally posted on March 19, 2018, “It Doesn’t Cost Anything To Be Kind” states something so simple in reaction to RJ Palacio’s ‘Wonder’, which I taught to my sixth grade this past year.
I remember writing this at my desk. It was raining, and I had just finished reading some Jesuit literature. I was about to write my first cover letter in eight years and apply to a Jesuit high school in the city that thankfully did not get back to me.
Anyway, I’d really gotten away from myself as the year progressed; I’d become so negative, even bitter – two adjectives that did not describe me. So, I reminded myself:
It doesn’t cost anything to be kind is a motto my father modeled for me in his dealings with people throughout my life.
That could be in my dealing with the FedEx worker who needed a light for his cigarette, and we ended up chatting about the degree he just earned and his exploring the possibility of changing careers and becoming a teacher.
Maybe it’s the cup of coffee and the two-hour conversation about my current struggles this year at my job I have with my 84-year-old neighbor whose husband recently passed away.
It could be in my chatting up the convenience store clerk who sells me smokes or in my interacting and making jokes with the gas station employees near my job. Or even just having a pleasant, affable tone with the waitress at the diner.
Kids or adults; rich or poor; black, white, Latino, or something else – does not matter what the distinction is – all humans deserve and require one element, and only one element, to connect with them; that is, dignity. All desire to be respected and valued, not diminished or marginalized.
It’s far too easy to take a condescending tone or put someone down just because you can. I saw enough of that from a select few snobs at Fairfield U. I see plenty of that in my current position with teachers ill-equipped – and, in some case, unqualified – to deal with the next-generation student. So, bridging the gap between groups begins with respect on both sides and an acknowledgment that discussing differences does not divide, but instead brings us closer together. For then we are understanding, not classifying or singling out.
I just finished reading Dr. Christopher Emdin’s ‘For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Ya’ll Too.”
Full disclosure: As much of a culturally-aware and embracing educator as I am, I would not have known about this book had my new job not required I read it.
But am I happy I did (even if annotating it took WAY longer than a 208-page book should).
I’ll admit I have certain reservations about the title, his use of “white folks,” and some of his assertions; namely, the classifying certain practices Emdin assigns specifically to the “neoindiginous,” or black urban youth that are universal of youth. However, the text also validated many of my beliefs about educators and the education they must provide for our students, regardless of their backgrounds.
I intend to expound upon the above in a series of blogs – some based solely on education and Emdin’s thoughts; others based on basic human dignity inside and outside of the education realm. For now, though, I want to leave you with this quote/wisdom from Emdin in concluding For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Ya’ll Too“:
The effectiveness of the teacher can be traced directly back to what that teacher thinks of the student. If the teacher does not value the student, there is no motivation to take risks to engage with the student. It is easier and safer to remain in the traditional model – even though that model has failed the student.
Traditional is easy.
Now, think about the kids.
Which you should have been doing from the jump.
Originally posted on November 20, 2017, Throwback Thursday: The Value of Companionship analyzes this major theme from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in relation to my relationship with my wife and friends.
While I don’t know much, I know this life’s not meant to be lived alone. And I’m sure I wouldn’t be in a position to start this new job without the guidance and support of those closest to me.
John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men remains one of my favorite texts to teach, for in less than 110 pages it offers hundreds of pages of depth. Whether it be examining the historical context – Great Depression/Dust Bowl – or the plight of people of color – see Crooks – or even the ranch as its own independent society, the text offers months of interesting discussions and learning opportunities – months unfortunately no one has.
Alas, there’s never enough time to discuss good literature.
Through Chapter 3, now, we have arrived at the venerable Slim and his inability to understand Lennie and George’s relationship. In Chapter 2, meanwhile, we witnessed the callous Carlson’s pushing to shoot Candy’s dog.
What’s the connection?
Companionship – its importance and the inability of many of the ranch workers to understand it. So, it got me thinking about companionship in my own life…
My wife, obviously my ultimate companion and partner in crime – my everything, my always, my forever – has made an honest man out of me in our almost a decade together (that’s a scary thought, in itself).
With her I’ve overcome personal tragedies, written books, learned how to detach myself from work, and discovered that I do not always have to have a solution to a problem – I just have to listen (take notes, guys).
Originally posted on March 7, 2018, “We’re Getting Old” reveals my coming to terms with an unavoidable reality:
I’m a lot of things – an educator, a professional, a husband, an adult – but a kid is not one of them.
And I have no complaints about that.
Gone are the weekday hangovers where you’re hiding behind a computer screen or pulling a Costanza and sleeping under the desk, just counting down the seconds till the acceptable time to jet out of work hits. Or in my case, standing before my students with sunglasses on getting pegged with questions of anonymous origin like dodgeballs in the dark.
Those were the days when I could shake off late nights and still have the energy and motivation to provide my students with the best English education one can offer. Not anymore. Now, I just wear sunglasses because my eyes have become overly sensitive to bright lights, which segues perfectly into the Fairfield Alumni event I attended last night. As I caught up with ’08, ’09, and ’10 grads, a theme of the night quickly revealed itself: WE’RE GETTING OLD.
I don’t know if it was that we were vigilantly monitoring our alcohol consumption despite today likely being a work-from-home day. Or maybe it was that we were talking about being or becoming homeowners, having kids, or even getting a dog. Maybe it was that we were there interacting as professionals, not because we wanted the open bar. And we actually discussed ways to improve the alumni’s connection with the University – I mean real discussion, not pithy, frivolous nonsense. People were thinking and engaging, not just throwing pleasantries at each other and uh-huhing the night away.
My, my how the times have changed.
In a good way.
“Summertime, and the livin’s easy.” Whether Ella Fitzgerald or Sublime is singing it, the words could not be truer this summer.
Since my wife and I moved June 14th, the summer has been a nonstop go-fest. Except this time around it’s not the wedding gauntlet we’re running. It’s actually something for us – for once.
Buying new furniture.
Unpacking boxes and boxes of our lives.
Receiving deliveries (and dealing with the various hip and trendy stores that apparently cannot properly track or deliver their goods).
Testing the limits of Amazon Prime’s free two-day shipping. Because who doesn’t need a new tv remote, a six pack of loofas, a 12-pack of potato chip clips, a sound bar – it goes on and on and on and on.
We even joined Costco to buy a yearly supply of beef jerky, trail mix, Boomchickapop, Spanakopita, chicken and cilantro wantons, and peanut butter – all of which will likely last us until the onset of Christ. Not listed in the membership benefits, but eminently present, is the opportunity to watch adults tussle over free samples of hotdogs and beans; I would’ve broken someone’s hip for that chicken salad with craisins sample, though.
Originally posted on August 15, 2017, “The Summer Read” explains why I read so many damn books last summer – partially for enjoyment and partially to research the competition for ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up‘, a whole lot of good that did.
Anyway, this summer is a different kind of Summer Read, the I’m preparing for a new job summer read of going through some of the summer reading books and the curriculum texts , in addition to modifying and designing new units for the coming school year.
And I cannot wait!
In May my wife wondered aloud why I didn’t take the summer off to focus on my writing. According to her, teaching full time and carrying a full consulting schedule left me thin to do the work necessary to find an agent.
As is usually the case, she was right.
And, boy, did I have a lot of work to do.
As thorough as I am in my professional life, for whatever reason I had been quite negligent in properly researching the market for my book, its competition, and the specific agents to whom I intended to pitch my book. Unprepared for the task at hand, the same offense for which I fault my students, I myself was.
We call that irony, kids.
As I leave Thornton-Donovan School and start the next phase of my life, I just wanted to say thank you to Mr. Fleming, Annmarie, Steve Schlitten, and some members of the faculty for your guidance and support over the years. Most importantly, though, I want to thank my students and their families, past and present:
Thank you for being the quirky and talented individuals you are.
For questioning me and my practices.
For making me show you why it was important and why I was the best person to teach it to you.
Thank you for always challenging me to be the best teacher I could be.
Continue demanding – respectfully, of course – the best possible education for yourselves because you deserve it.
That, and your parents/guardians are paying for it.
Do not accept the advice of anyone who is not worth your trust. And do not simply think someone has your best interests in mind. It is up to you to take a stand and do what’s best for your futures.
Because they’re yours and no one else’s.
Do not be bystanders because bystanders have no say.
Lastly, I want you to know that I’m not leaving because of you. All you need to know and all that really matters is that I stayed because of you.
With a heavy heart, I say goodbye for now. However, always remember that I’m just an email away to say hi, to discuss literature or theory, to chat about life – not to have me do the work your English teacher should be doing.
All my gratitude, your teacher,