For White Folks… Building Culture and Relationships in the Classroom.

Urban education has become a sore spot for many teachers. The radicalization of an us vs them standpoint has been created between teachers and students. When combined with a deficient mindset, it is no wonder teachers are having issues in their classrooms. Dr. Christopher Emdin focuses on this issue in his book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education. Only at the crossroads of culture and relationships can teachers and students positively interact for an inclusive classroom.

Five Aspects of Building Culture and Community.

  1. Rapport. Teachers have to know their students. A classroom that is not built upon a communal foundation will not succeed. The ability for students to interact with their teacher will be diminished if a barrier is created. Building connections with students also allows the teacher to understand what is happening in their lives, know the interests of individuals in the class, and tailor the education for the class. However, it is also vital that students know one another. Suppose students are not willing to talk among themselves in conversations pertaining to school alongside daily conversations. In that case, the class will struggle to work together on collaborative assignments and the atmosphere will become dull.
  2. Do not jump straight to authoritarian. Then end-all move of a teacher should not be punishment. Note that I am not using the word discipline. The gut reactions that a teacher has should not be to punish the students, to remove them from class, or to have them sent to the principal. Not only does this look bad on the teacher when they remove individuals from their class and offload them onto the principal, but it also hurts the academic time that the students have. Isolating any individual from time spent in class will often have a larger impact than the offense that started the issue. We want our students to feel welcome in the classroom, and jumping to martial law as often as we can will only hurt our goals.
  3. ‘Cosmopolitanism.’ Dr. Emdin focuses on incorporating this idea into the classroom. This is built on the idea that students will desire to be in the classroom if they have a sense of duty to perform in the classroom and if they have responsibilities to one another. Building this in the classroom will make students want to be in the class. This will go far for student self-involvement in the classroom and will boost self-efficacy.
  4. Idea of smartness. Each teacher has their own ‘idea of smartness.’ This idea is what the teacher believes that a student should show and how they should behave in their class to be labeled smart. The problem is, that what one person believes is smart does not include every student that will be in the class. A teacher has to be open to paying attention to different kinds of smartness in their classroom. In doing so, they will open their eyes to each student and how they show their knowledge in the classroom. This will build connections between the teacher and the student which leads to a better classroom environment.
  5. Duos. Assign students a partner for the quarter/year. This partnership is meant to provide someone who can hold each other academically accountable, help with school work, and create a relational attachment. This does not mean pairing two students up for every group work activity, but that students should be incentivized to work together if they need help outside of class- a go-to study buddy. In addition to this, the teacher is responsible for providing class time where students can build a relationship with their duo. The goal is to not just have a partner for academic support, but also for support whenever it is needed.

So How Can This Be Incorporated?

Dr. Emdin’s book focuses heavily on observations from the students and the community in which they lived. By taking these observations and adapting them to the classroom, students will notice similarities and be drawn into the atmosphere of the class. In addition to this, their comfort will increase and they will have the opportunity to connect with the teacher. One of the easiest ways to do this is to increase student involvement in the class. Using the term cogen group, Emdin provided a way for teachers to have a small classroom ‘senate.’ This is a group of 2-5 students that represent the class and are willing to meet with the teacher to talk about the effectiveness of teaching, students’ interests, and suggestions for the class. In addition to this, the group offers the teacher options to increase student involvement and offer student teaching. So here is the plan.

  • Offer students to sign up for a group that will meet outside of class with the teacher to discuss events in the classroom.
  • Provide icebreakers and food during these meetings – liven up the atmosphere!
  • Use the time to discuss student-expected outcomes. What would the students like to see the teacher do? What can the teacher learn from this panel of students?
  • After a few meetings, start to place some responsibilities on these students. Eventually, encourage students to help co-teach. Help create lesson plans and have the students take turns teaching some.
  • Provide feedback and receive feedback. Let the students teach, do not stop at minor issues.

Teaching must include the students. As a teacher, you must find ways that invite the student’s being into the classroom. Incorporate cultures, ideas, and student input heavily. Do not be afraid to go beyond the status quo for your student and the class.

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