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Christopher Emdin’s Thoughts on Transformative Pedagogy for National Teacher Appreciation Week

By Christopher Emdin

Christopher Emdin
Photo credit: High Tech Slam

In his proclamation for this year’s National Teacher Appreciation Week (May 2-6), President Barack Obama states that “our country’s teachers—from the front lines of our civil rights movement to the front lines of our education system—have helped steer our country’s course. They witness the incredible potential of our youth, and they know firsthand the impact of a caring leader at the front of the classroom.” Associate professor and educator Christopher Emdin is certainly at the front lines of a radical approach to teaching urban youth. His theory of Reality Pedagogy in For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood...and the Rest of Y’all Too is the much-needed antidote to traditional top-down schooling and promises to reframe the landscape of urban education for the better. He recognizes that at times putting this theory into practice can become daunting, and teachers need encouragement to forge ahead. In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Week, we’re sharing this excerpt from Emdin’s book in which he lists eight of his thoughts and musings to motivate educators to keep going.

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Throughout For White Folks, I have provided educators and those interested in the field of education a number of concepts to think about, new approaches to consider, and new practices to implement. However, in my work as a teacher and a trainer of teachers, there are times when the work seems too tough, inspiration is nowhere to be found, and I am so bogged down by attacks on the profession and shifting policies that lead nowhere that I must take a step back and regroup. Here, I share some thoughts I always return to on my journey in education. They are a collection of personal musings, shared with the sole intent of supporting educators on their most challenging days and reminding them of why we do this work, and what we need to do it well.

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The way that a teacher teaches can be traced directly back to the way that the teacher has been taught. The time will always come when teachers must ask themselves if they will follow the mold or blaze a new trail. There are serious risks that come with this decision. It essentially boils down to whether one chooses to do damage to the system or to the student.

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The longer teachers teach, the better they are at their practice. That practice may serve to empower students or it may break the students’ spirit. That decision belongs to the teacher.

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For White Folks Who Teach in the HoodThe 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.

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How successful the teacher is in the classroom is directly related to how successful the teacher thinks the students can be. Teachers limit themselves and their students when they put caps on what their students can achieve.

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Teachers who hold within themselves perceptions of the inadequacy of students will never be able to teach them to be something greater than what they are. You cannot teach someone you do not believe in.

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Planning for your lesson is valuable, but being willing to let go of that plan is even more so. It is only on the path away from where you started that you can get to where you want to go.

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Continued effort in teaching more effectively inevitably results in more effective teaching. However, this all depends on what the teacher considers to be effective. The teacher must ask what the desired result of the teaching is. You cannot be effective if you have not defined for yourself what effective means.

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The kind of teacher you will become is directly related to the kind of teachers you associate with. Teaching is a profession where misery does more than just love company—it recruits, seduces, and romances it. Avoid people who are unhappy and disgruntled about the possibilities for transforming education. They are the enemy of the spirit of the teacher.

 

About the Author 

image from www.beaconbroadside.comChristopher Emdin is an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science, and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he also serves as associate director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education. The creator of the #HipHopEd social media movement and Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S., Emdin was named the 2015 Multicultural Educator of the Year by the National Association of Multicultural Educators and has been honored as a STEM Access Champion of Change by the White House. In addition to teaching, he serves as a Minorities in Energy Ambassador for the US Department of Energy. He is the author of For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood...and the Rest of Y’all Too. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisemdin. Visit his website: chrisemdin.com.

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