I’ve recently finished reading this book. If I had to pinpoint a target audience for it that would be middle school and high school teachers in urban settings. I’m not that. I’ll be teaching third graders this year in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. My setting is fairly urban in many ways, but my students are overwhelmingly fairly recent immigrants, mostly from Honduras and El Salvador. There are a lot of differences between the world in which I teach and the world Emdin describes in this book.
That didn’t matter. It was still one of the most powerful professional books I’ve read in quite some time. My take away from the book was about the importance of getting to truly know your students and their community and valuing it. Too often teachers get that first step (far too often, sadly, I think that step is even missed) but view their students’ lives outside of school through a deficit model. Emdin makes the case for the value of all our students bring with them to school and how we can bring that into schools to benefit us all.
Fairly early in the book he says (on page 23):
In schools, urban youth are expected to leave their day-to-day experiences and emotions at the door and assimilate into the culture of schools.
I’d argue this is true far beyond urban youth. My recent immigrant students are expected to do the same. LGBTQ youth are expected to do the same. Any students who don’t fit the ‘ideal’ of middle-class, white American will be expected to do the same. Unfortunately, we often don’t even realize that is true. I certainly needed the reminder.
what lies beyond what we see are the deep stories, complex connections, and realities that factors like race, class, power, and the beliefs/presuppositions educators hold inhibit them from seeing. Teaching to who students are requires a recognition of their realities. (p. 25)
And similarly (page 42):
Our understandings of who was and wasn’t a good student were rooted less in our experiences with urban students and more on our perceptions of them, which were largely based on a flawed narrative.
What if we, the educators, the ones with power, were the ones to change? What we analyzed our own perceptions and biases and adapted to our students?
Possibly my favorite quote from the book (page 48):
I wondered why the ability to plan a lesson, and not the ability to connect with students, was the prerequisite for being a model teacher.
Content is king in our educational system today. Our students should be. The driving force behind everything we do should be our students. But it’s easier for it to be facts and skills rather than people.
When teachers engage in dialogues with students that privilege their unique voices, the students feel validated for who they are rather than who the teacher expects or desires them to be. (page 67)
Engaging in dialogue isn’t enough. We must do so in ways that truly elevates student voices rather than allowing them to simply participate as parrots.
As this book is about working with middle and high school students I am continuing to mull over how to adapt some of it for work with my third graders. The cogenerative dialogues and coteaching are two of the biggest for me.
Coteaching in this model is predicated on the fact that the teacher cannot fully meet the needs of students unless the students have an opportunity to show the teacher what they need and then demonstrate what good teaching looks like for them. (page 87)
And, finally (page 109):
The point is not to force everyone to be a part of the dominant culture, but rather to move everyone to be themselves together.
If you have not read this book I cannot recommend it enough. It was a surprisingly quick read as it is so well written. I’m jealous of friends who have had the chance to hear Christopher Emdin speak. The man has so much to teach us.