ICYMI: ‘For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood’, originally posted on August 3, examines author Dr. Christopher Emdin’s use of “white folks” in the title and text and how my initial indignation yielded reflection and understanding.
Originally posted on October 23, 2017, “The Excuse of All Excuses” bemoans the lack of accountability from students and their parents nowadays.
I’ve always said – and I’ll reiterate it here – that I have much more respect for the student who owns his/her behavior and choices; that’s the first step to understanding and improving.
If only all kids were given that chance.
I remember the days when a student misbehaved and you reprimanded him or her. Maybe you made a phone call home. You might’ve even made an example out of the student and kicked him or her out of class. Lessons were learned. Respect was commanded through action. Insubordination and disruption were quelled. And that was that.
Teachers pretty much can’t talk in a stern voice or give detention to a wayward kid. They’re not allowed to demand a student stay on task when working on a laptop or stop disrespecting a classmate they’re trying to talk over because I guess their point is that much more profound and important – trust me, it’s likely not.
That’s obviously a bit played up, but I recently heard an obtuse account of a parent’s complaint pretty much about me because nothing is ever direct from the source where I work. Anyway, what I gathered from it was that this woman felt her son was being bullied by his insensitive teachers.
So now we call being kicked out of class bullied.
Why was he excused exactly?
Oh, because he disrespected a classmate in the midst of an explanation by interrupting him and proceeding to talk until the other student stopped. When called out on this overtly rude behavior, the boy laughed.
That’s when another student looked at him and said, “You’re dead,” as I told him to get out in no uncertain terms. Forget about disrespecting me, which I neither accept nor take lightly, but there’s no place for that lack of concern for peers in a positive learning community.
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.
Originally posted on December 22, 2017, “The Paint of Growing Up” acknowledges how hard it is to be a kid, especially when faced with a tragedy most adults never have to confront.
In this piece I give the students praise they seldom hear, plaudits for comporting themselves as adults and representing their school in its toughest time.
I mentioned in “A Letter to My Lost Student” how appropriate – really fateful – the posting of “Throwback Thursday: Letters to My First Students” was in light of what happened. I was originally going to write about how middle school-aged kids were so consciously and unconsciously cruel to one another and how it’s amazing how so many kids survive middle school.
Then, Thornton-Donovan School suffered a nearly unbearable tragedy on December 11 when one of our former students who was still very much connected to the school took her own life. Consequently, I pushed that piece of childish cruelty, for this piece had to be written first.
For years I’ve had students whose maturation and actions and accomplishments have filled my heart with pride. This is specifically the reason why I have remained at Thornton-Donovan School; this strange place has granted me the opportunity to impart above-grade-level knowledge and strategies on precocious middle schoolers to prepare them for high school. Whether they are actually granted the opportunity to apply their skills in high school is a discussion for after I leave Thornton-Donovan.
Getting to see Shakespeare in the Park seems to be a goal every summer, and every summer passes without it happening.
Very excited to see the well-received rendition of Twelfth Night in Central Park tonight thanks to the generosity of two of my former students and their family.
Yes, there are some perks to being an English teacher.
For now, while there is a great production from the Globe on Youtube, I leave you with this clip for a cheap, quick laugh instead:
Now, I just have to make sure I don’t get lost taking the bus and a couple subways.
Update: I DID NOT take the bus or the subway – Ubered both ways – but what a colorful, representative, inclusive show that’s easily one of the best contemporary adaptations of Shakespeare I’ve seen.
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.
“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 June 24, 2018, “A Past and Present Farewell” is my goodbye message to my current and former students and their families.
While I look forward to this new opportunity, I will miss the students and their families – some with whom I’ve worked for eight years.
How the time flies when you’re having fun!