Reality Pedagogy with @ChrisEmdin #MTBoSBlagust #MTBoS

My first year teaching, I worked at a small public school in the Bronx. I was struggling with everything, and so were many of my colleagues. More than half of the staff was first year teachers, and while we all had the enthusiasm required, few of us had the skills we needed. My principal brought in a variety of consultants to work with us on various things, some more helpful than others. I definitely wasn’t ready to hear everything he had to tell me at the time, but I know Chris Emdin was one of the most impactful.

A few things that stand out to me from my interactions with Chris that year:

  • I’ll never forget the first time he observed my class, 604. In 45 minutes, he knew more about my students than I did after being with them for six weeks. I was shocked and amazed (and dismayed at myself) – but I felt better knowing that he had many more years of teaching experience to recognize patterns of student behavior than I did. He helped me see what to look for and figure out how to channel the students’ natural enthusiasm and energy into something academic.
  • I remember the lesson he modeled for me and my students that I copied in my other class. I think the topic was something about the movement speeds of particles in hot vs. cold, and I remember he had all of the students gather around and watch as he dropped food coloring into two cups of water – one hot and one cold. We literally watched the color zing around the hot water and slowly fall to the bottom of the cold water cup. I remember being amazed and thinking “wow, so this is why you want to steep your tea in hot water!” I’d never seen my students so engaged as they were with that lesson.
  • This last one is sillier in some ways, but I’ll never forget the argyle socks that he wore (they may have even been pink argyle!). I remember he dressed with such style, and at one point in one of the lessons, he invited a student up to the front to reteach the topic to the class. While at the front, Chris had pulled up a chair and put his foot on it, revealing the sock. When the student came up to teach, he imitated the move almost exactly, replicating even the same foot stance (though his sock wasn’t quite as cool!).
  • Chris had tons of really great suggestions for me that created cognitive dissonance for me and disequilibrium in my mind, as I tried to learn how to incorporate his suggestions into my teaching practice. Honestly, some of them were ones above my skill level at the time (or my comfort level), because I felt paralyzed by the unexpected student responses or the unplanned, off-the-cuff moments where I had to improvise what I said to the students because I couldn’t plan for what they would say in advance. Even now, after six years of teaching, there are still aspects of his reality pedagogy that I’m not sure I’m going to be able to successfully implement – but now I’m ready to try them out! (I also think having a script and a guidebook is helpful and reassuring for me).
  • One of my biggest realizations after working with Chris was that I had very little in the way of “relationship building” skills. Despite having worked at summer camps and museums with children before entering teaching, perhaps because of my nervousness at being responsible for these children’s math and science education, I forgot to lay the foundation for the year by building relationships with them. I am (and pretty much always have been) a bit socially awkward, and I didn’t know how to relate to my students or find connections between us. Whenever they would try to talk to me about topics I deemed off-topic, I shut them down, instead of chatting with them and seeing it as a potential relationship-building moment. I know that the complexity of my first year teaching was exacerbated by the fact that I was still very early in my transition (still on mild pain-killers following my top surgery during my first few weeks of teaching in fact!), and I was still figuring out how to enact my masculinity in a way that felt comfortable to me. I didn’t yet know how to be a positive male role model for my students because I didn’t quite know how to be a man yet. I’ve definitely come a long way from there, both in terms of being more comfortable in my own masculinity and how that looks with my students as well as my ability to chat with my students and develop more of a relationship with them as an individual.

For those of you who haven’t yet read Chris Emdin’s book, For White People Who Teach In The Hood (and the rest of y’all too), I can’t recommend it highly enough. I found it to be an engaging read, full of ideas that I never would have considered had I not met Chris previously (plus more!). I appreciate the examples from his own teaching experiences, reassuring me that even he didn’t come to teaching “already knowing” how to do this naturally, but had to learn it the hard way. I also love the concrete scripts he provides for the nervous teachers (like myself) who might want to try out his suggestions, but don’t know where to begin.

Let’s summarize some of the ideas (both the big ideas & little techniques) he puts forth and the ways I see them as potentially impacting my practice this fall:

  • The first big technique that he describes is what he calls Pentecostal Pedagogy: “the preacher’s ability to have control over the service while allowing the congregants to guide his preaching.” The two big moves he mentions are the “call-and-response” which results in focus and engagement and the solemn call to the altar that moves them to be reflective. I first learned about these specific techniques actually from reading Teach Like A Champion, though I didn’t begin implementing either of them immediately. I took a few classes in mindfulness before I started trying out something that I consider similar to the “solemn call to the altar” where I use my voice to calm the volume or the tone and get students to be more reflective and ready for class. The other thing is that I really WANT to do the call and response, but I haven’t quite figured out how yet. I’ve had a few accidental experiences with it which I think I want to make intentional. First, during my second or third year of teaching, a colleague at MfA shared with me her saying that she told the students to remind them to do the check “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” I loved it, and immediately began using it with my students. Some of my students would call it out on their own during class, and I would enthusiastically agree. One of my students printed out a meme with “Y u no check yourself?” that I posted on my bulletin board for two years. However, I found it most effective when I would say “Check yourself” and my students would respond “Before you wreck yourself.” This past year, I also started a routine of having things in blue that I wanted my students to copy down (a suggestion from my special-ed co-teacher), and she had a phrase that she often said, “When in blue, you write it too.” I was thinking this could also be changed to a call-and-response like, “When in blue,” and they say “we write it too.” I also think about specific ways to use this for attention-getting, like “May I proceed?” and having the students respond, “Yes, indeed.” I found this post with a bunch of other suggestions, some of which I like: My concern here is that students might feel like these call-and-responses are forced or unnatural, and I’m not sure how to build in excitement for them from the students! I suppose part of it is how I use them and what I have us say – as well as how comfortable I am with what I’m saying. I totally bought into the “check yourself before you wreck yourself” (which, by the way, I didn’t realize until later was a reference to a musical lyric!), so my students could feel my genuine enthusiasm about that phrase and began to mirror it back. I wonder if I can have students help me develop the call-and-responses… I also know some of the teachers I’ve worked with in the past have done things as simple as saying to the students, “Good morning, class,” and asking they say “Good morning, Mr. G” in return (or afternoon) – I bet you could do the same type of thing with that technique (this particular teacher began EVERY class EVERY DAY with saying that – which reminds me of the beginning of the pentecostal service he quoted. I like some of the other ones he suggests (All for One and One for All – which reminds me of the three musketeers and I will not lose – I like the supportive nature in which these seem to be deployed).
  • He also mentions the idea of welcoming non-academic phrases, and I definitely think that’s one that I’ve grown tremendously about. To give some of my background: my mom was a professional editor of books for a major publishing house during my youth, and her response to my useage of improper grammar was to immediately and swiftly correct me. Even in the midst of telling a story, if I said, “Me and Kyle…” my mom would interrupt, correcting, “Kyle and I…” and wouldn’t let me proceed until I spoke correctly. So I didn’t grow up using slang – cool was about as “hip” a word as my mom knew! In the last few years, I’ve grown much more comfortable with asking my students to explain their phrases to me and even repeating them back to them once I feel like I understand it – and it’s totally made my students feel welcome. My favorite new expression (probably because I can still picture the three students who introduced it to me saying it in class) was “That’s lit!” about something being cool (in my lingo!).
  • The next thing he mentions is barbershops and beauty parlors. He talks about Marcus, a gifted teacher/barber who was able to facilitate successful conversations between a rapper and some academics by setting everyone at ease with some jokes and then asking questions to get the conversation going. I have definitely tried to emulate this more over the last few years (and as I’ve grown more comfortable with myself, I find things I can joke about to my students like my short height). I still think this is not one that I’m great at, and I’m still trying to get better. I definitely liked the analogy between his statement about his responsibility as a barber, “…ensure that the client leaves the barbershop having had a personal experience with me that makes them want to come back…” as being similar to my responsibility as a teacher. I’ve also definitely introduced way more stories into my classroom. I know my first year, I felt like I was “focused on the skills” but I had no ideas about how to cross over the engagement with the math to my students. One of the most successfully engaging lessons was about perimeter and area near the end of the year. I gave students the classic “fixed perimeter, what’s the biggest area?” problem – but in the context of my bunny rabbits! I had bunnies when I was a kid and I made a handout with a bunny on it, and we discussed the different pens that I could make with the amount of fencing I had and they were off! Later, when I taught 8th grade, I eventually incorporated stories that touched my students too. For example, when introducing slope, I began by talking about staircases. But not just any staircases – I asked my students if any of them had ever been to the F train station at Lexington (not too far from my old school) – most of them would raise their hands (and I chose that one specifically because I knew most of them would have had experience with it). Then I would describe my morning commute (since that was where I got on and off the train daily!), complaining about how the escalator there ALWAYS seems to be out (which is does – inviting them to commiserate with me!) and ask them why they thought I was SO EXHAUSTED after walking up so many stairs when I had more stairs in my apartment building leading to my apartment (a slight fudge – I only live on the second floor but if I lived on the sixth floor, there would be more here!). Then I did a turn-and-talk with them, and the students came to the conclusion that the stairs at the subway station are pretty steep and they must be steeper than the stairs in my apartment building (truth!). Then I would talk to them about creating a way to measure steepness, and we would begin to investigate slope more formally! I allowed students to talk about their own experiences with those stairs and others, because I began to recognize the importance of providing space for student voice. I think these examples begin to tackle the ideas he mentions in his context and content chapter, because I began to merge the ideas of the steepness of a line (slope – the math content) with a context familiar to the students (the steep staircase at a local subway stop). This was something I missed out on leveraging until my third or fourth year teaching, but now I do almost instinctively. (Well, I did at the 8th grade level – now I’m going to need to rethink it all again because I’m switching to 6/7 grade content).
  • The single biggest idea that I’ve gotten from Chris is about the cogenerative dialogues. He tried to have me implement these my first year teaching, and I really didn’t understand how they were supposed to function. I wanted a model, a script, and I felt so uncomfortable with the idea of the improv required to respond to students that I wasn’t ready to even give it a try. Then I switched schools and I forgot about them entirely until reading this book. I appreciated the scripts he provided of how to invite the students to come talk to me, as well as types of students to invite (i.e. how to ensure diversity), how to swap students in and out of the cogen, and the topics that should be addressed in the early ones. I like the idea that the chairs are positions in a circle so we can all make eye-contact, and I like the suggestion of music playing (though I would definitely need to ask students what to play as I don’t think they would enjoy my tastes in music!). I also know the power of food, so I like his suggestion of a snack (or meal, if done at lunchtime!). He suggests a few rules: no voice is privileged over another (meaning equal turns at talk and ample opportunities to constructively challenge each other), one mic, the dialogue leads to a plan of action that everyone must work toward when they return to the classroom. I like his suggestion that it is the entire group’s collective responsibility for addressing the violation of the rules. It is this last rule about an action plan that I think is both the hardest to enact and the most important for the success of this structure.
  • The first cogen session he suggests should include framing and naming the members of the group as something special (perhaps by having them create a tag for themselves or a special name or even getting a certificate from the principal!). The second goal should be for the students to experience positive results from being a part of the conversation (which is where the action plan comes in). To do this, the teacher presents an issue that the group can work together to solve. It should focus on a small issue and an obvious and easily answered one. He even gives some suggested first topics: something teachers can do in the first five or last five to either open or close the lesson, identifying a good practice that the teacher enacts and can do more often, or identify a practice that all of the students in the cogen group can do to engage the students in the next class. I think for me personally, the idea of the closure of the lesson as the first one would fit most with my other personal teaching goals (especially since I know that can be an area of weakness with the bell often being my closing unless I have an exit ticket!).
  • One of the scariest suggestions he makes (scariest to me) is the idea of co-teaching in the form of handing over the reigns to a student. I’m still not sure how to do this, even after reading the book. The idea is to have a student (probably from the cogen group) coteach a lesson on a specific topic, initially planning the lesson with the teacher (and perhaps even with the cogen group!). I think some of my hesitation here is my discomfort with the unknown (i.e. what will happen if the student gets something wrong, or what happens if the student doesn’t introduce it the way I want them to, or, or, or…!). I definitely get the idea of asking the students to model the pedagogy that would be most effective (or the examples that would be most engaging), but there’s a big part of me that’s nervous about doing that with real class time and real students. I think the student who did that first in a class would have to have a really big personality to engage the entire class; if they just imitated me in doing my thing, they might be unsuccessful (I’ve seen that in homeroom announcements made by students). I don’t think this is a technique I’m ready to try out yet, but I’m definitely thinking about how to tiptoe around the edges (perhaps by asking students about techniques that help them learn best or about examples for specific topics, etc.). I think another challenging thing here is the pre-teaching that’s involved in getting a student ready to teach a content-topic in math.
  • I like the suggested reflection questions, and I wonder about potentially using them after some of my own lessons to elicit this type of feedback for myself from the students. His questions included things like, “What part of the lesson struck you as most effective or memorable? What was said or done and how did it make you feel? If you were the person who was teaching, what about the lesson would you do the same? What would you do differently and why? In what ways was this lesson similar to, or different from, previous lessons?”
  • Another suggestion Chris makes is about peer-to-peer teaching, and I think this is another area that I’ve grown in dramatically since my first year. My first year, I couldn’t figure out how to get students to work in groups; inevitably, if I put them into groups, they talked off-task and didn’t work on the content. Now I realize that to some degree, whenever you put people together, their conversations may stray off-topic – even when you put engaged teachers together to talk about a topic they’re passionate about, sometimes it happens! – and if you provide the students with engaging work to talk about (interesting problems or intriguing questions), they are more likely to return to conversing about that then if they have a boring topic to talk about. I’ve definitely built in more group learning, whether from partner work or quads, and I’ve also talked with them about teaching each other and talking to each other. I still think I have work to do in helping students to recognize that they all have strengths and weaknesses (and not to classify themselves as the “smart” or “dumb” kid), and they all have something of value to contribute to their peers. Also, to convey to them the importance of explaining their work and ideas so others can explain it – putting the responsibility on the explanations as tools for deepening their own understanding rather than letting them feel like they explain their ideas to “stupid kids who don’t understand.” That’s perhaps a separate topic though.
  • The idea of cosmopolitan as building the sensation of responsibility for the learning of the other students in the classroom is so important. I really liked this idea, and I feel like in some years, I’ve been more or less successful at this, and I’m still not 100% sure why. I think the importance of “we’re all in this together” cannot be emphasized enough and yet it never seems to quite come through as much as I want it to. I think this is one area that I want to commit to improving this year, but I’m not quite sure how. I need to focus on “fostering socioemotional connections in the classroom with the goal of building students’ sense of responsibility to each other and the learning environment.” One way he suggests is through classroom jobs (which would be a whole separate post), but I don’t think I’ve mastered the artful use of these yet, especially not in math class. I like his idea that the students shape what the norm is authentically. Unfortunately, that’s something that can’t be scripted, and sometimes, I feel like I flounder in those moments of uncertainty (and other times, I flourish! In part, perhaps, depending on how and when I connect with the students).
  • I really like the idea of the cosmo duo, and helping students to feel connected to each other in a learning partnership. In his model, this all stems from the cogen dialogues, building a partnership where the students share their strengths and weaknesses in the classroom. I like some of the ideas about how to pair up students, and I like the idea that working together to address challenges becomes the norm (and diminishing the notion that disclosing your academic challenges is negative). I like his suggestion about how to weight the scores for the cosmo duos (with an increase in the score of one student based on the growth of the other), but I worry about pushback from parents and my administration; I don’t think I could try this out my first year at a new school. I also like the analogy to my own experiences in college of finding study buddies who were able to successfully help me pass my statistics course (which I found incredibly challenging). But I’m not sure I have a full vision of this one yet.
  • I love the idea of the class handshake! I want to do this! I think fist bumps and high fives in general are great ways to show affection and enthusiasm and warmth for students. I also like the idea of the classroom name, but I’m not sure how to facilitate that selection exactly.
  • I also definitely hear his points about context, and making connections with the students outside of the classroom context. I think it will be important for me to see them at lunch or after school on the playground and interact with them. It’s funny to me, in some ways, because I’m NOT a very athletic person. My current favorite form of physical activity is biking – a solo activity! On the other hand, the most popular sport amongst my students always seems to be basketball. I can shoot and dribble and not make a total fool of myself (I can probably make about 50% of my shots?), but I’m definitely not a good basketballer (too short and not speedy or skilled enough). I have seen the way that students’ perceptions of you change though, when you interact with them in non-classroom settings, and I find the value of those interactions to be incredible moments of relationship-building.
  • I think my favorite technique of all of the things that he mentions is the W board: students write questions they want answered, but also try to write ones that may stump the teacher. It must be related to the content being taught/investigated. It should be written as a question (hence the W board: who, what, where, when, why, how?). I also like his emphasis that the rest of the class is responsible for researching and finding answers to the other students’ questions and posting responding! I also  like his suggestion of awarding extra credit for this question posing and researching, and that’s something I would really fight for, I think in part because of the value I attribute to questioning skills in my students.
  • The rap competition I think is the one I find most challenging and intimidating. I have no background or experience in listening or creating rap or hiphop (in fact, because it’s my brother’s favorite music genre, as a kid rebelling against his older brother, I absolutely refused to listen to any of it! I have listened to a few of the more popular songs occasionally these days, but it’s not a genre I seek out or enjoy). I’m also not a good singer at all (no ability to carry a tune nor keep a beat nor write lyrics nor even recall lyrics!), so I find this idea incredibly intimidating. I think I would need to do more research, reread the chapter, perhaps watch some youtube videos on this topic.
  • The chapter, Clean, on dressing well made me reflect on the way in which my fashion style has evolved and the unnoticed effect it has had on my relationships with my students. My first year of teaching, I had very little wardrobe, and had only relatively recently transitioned to living as a man and wearing an adult man’s “work wardrobe” (I had plenty of men’s boxers, tee-shirts, shorts and jeans, but not much dress clothing). I didn’t have a tremendous budget, and I did a lot of shopping in the boys’ section (because I’m so narrow-shouldered and short, and back then, I was even skinny enough to fit into boys XL). My clothing was quite frankly, often boring! I wore long sleeves often (because that was what I could find in the section that fit me!), and I had mostly blue, white, and gray shirts. I don’t recall which ties were the first ones I owned, but I know they were mostly wider and not particularly interesting patterns. However, seeing Chris’s style (and then one of the teachers at my recent school) inspired me to start caring about fashion (something I never cared about when I was a girl!). My partner has a much better fashion sense than I do, and birthday gifts and Christmas gifts were suddenly replete with funky ties and patterned shirts. Then we discovered Xios, who has the awesomest short sleeve shirts. Dressy enough that I can wear them as a teacher, but funky, with interesting designs in the fabric. My love of doctor who inspired me to start wearing bow ties, and I developed quite a collection. Then I added suspenders to my fashion palate and tie clips (including a few that show Star Wars or the Tardis, which are easily recognizable pop culture icons for my students – didn’t hurt that Star Wars just released a new movie!). I got much nicer brown shoes and I wore my Doc Martens more regularly when I needed black shoes. I noticed students would compliment me on my clothing, whether it was saying they liked my Harry Potter tie, or my Tardis Bow Tie, or even just saying they enjoyed my red suspenders! And I started trying to notice their clothing and shoe choices (something that required a conscious decision, as it’s not something I usually notice). Haircuts were first for me, easiest to recognize – and I began to be able to tell the difference between a haircut a student was proud of vs. embarrassed by (and I discovered that my compliment/noticing could put a student at ease either way!). I had a few students this past year who were obsessed about their sneakers and would ask me for “wipes” to clean them off and keep them shiny. I will admit the sneaker obsession is one that I still don’t quite understand (though I do love my Docs, so I suppose it’s similar), but I had an opportunity to interact with them about it, and I found out why they liked them and what their favorite pair were and why. I teased them by asking if they thought I would look good in their shoes, and I showed them my favorite shoes (which were not their style either!). I appreciate little touches in the students’ clothing (such as when their hats match their shoes, etc.), and I try to do something similar in my own outfit choices – for example, matching my red bow tie to my red suspenders for my demo lesson was a conscious choice! It’s funny to me how something as seemingly little as fashion sense would have such a big impact. During my second year of teaching, I remember joking constantly about my “cool ties” to my students (and being told they weren’t cool by them because there were no cartoon characters on them, like one of my colleagues – but I go for more fashionable ties than that!). I think I’ve come to realize how much of my personal style I’m able to convey through my dress – something I never realized as a teen (in part because I hated the fashion options open to me as a girl because they made me feel exposed and uncomfortable with my body because of my dysphoria).
  • I’m going to head into my classroom on Monday to start cleaning, organizing and decorating, and I’m definitely thinking about what he mentions with the classroom that has famous hiphop artists and quotes about hard work and resilience.
  • I want to think more specifically about how to teach my students to code switch. I really liked the example he included about being explicit and demonstrating the three types of language: English, Science (in my case, Math), and Slang. I like his suggestion of the visualization with closed eyes to get students in different mindsets (imagine you’re in the park – photosynthesis with slang vs imagine you’re in an Ivy League Colleage – photosynthesis with science language!). The goal of the exercise is to help students practice talking about this same topic in different contexts and learn how all of the different ways are each correct, but only in specific contexts. I’m not sure how to do this with all of the math vocabulary yet. I have referenced the ideas of code-switching in the past with students, but I think this is still an area that I can grow more in, especially in being explicitly practicing how to talk in multiple arenas about the same content.
  • The idea of using video and social media is intriguing to me, but beyond the scope of what I’m prepared to write about tonight. I think his point about the use of authentic social media is also important. Part of what has inspired me this month with #MTBoSBlaugust’s challenge has been the connection with the community, the ever-increasing views and tweets and retweets from other people. If everything I wrote were directed at one person who I barely considered myself connected to (even if peers in my class could see it/respond to it), I don’t think it would feel as authentic. The other thing that this chapter made me think about was the authentic vs. inauthentic assignments (i.e. learning to type vs. researching stuff on the internet for class). When I was in middle school and elementary school, my school used programs like Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing and a Mario game to teach us how to use the home-row keys to sight-type. I did ok at the typing tests, but my speed was not particularly great if I wanted to maintain my accuracy. In high school, I immediately made new friends who all communicated using AIM (those were the days!), and I enjoyed spending my evenings getting to know my new friends by chatting with them. But there were sometimes multiple conversations I would try to manage – six or more people at once! Each trying to have a different and unrelated conversation with me. In order to keep up, I had to be able to type fast and I began deploying my training of the home row. I can now regularly touch type 65 wpm. But that speed and accuracy were developed not from rote practice (where I often had only 30 wpm), but rather from a real audience with authentic needs for speed and accuracy. I feel like students probably know so much more about social media than I do (I’m lucky I’m on twitter – I was totally uninterested in Snap Chat and I felt like I was missing some piece of the puzzle in my understanding. I don’t do instagram or tumblr or anything really except facebook and twitter and now this blog). I feel like there have to be good ways to deploy this in math class, but I’m not sure how and I don’t think it’s good to deploy social media just for the sake of incorporating technology, so I’m holding off on this until I can figure out useful and helpful and meaningful ways of doing this. I sort of like the classroom twitter idea with getting up to the board and writing questions and answers to each other, but I’m not 100% sure how or when I would do those… I don’t have a vision for it yet. I must confess, I’m a slow learner – I need time to read about an idea, process it, write about it or discuss it, watch some videos or people doing it live before I typically feel ready to try something new.

I also foresee some challenges and some things that even now, I’m not quite sure I have a handle on how to do or the logistics of it. These are the things I’m still wondering about or thinking about:

  • First and foremost is the logistics of the cogen dialogues with students. Presumably, I need to do a separate one for each class, but I teach four sections (two 6th grade and two 7th grade classes) this year. If I met with my cogen group from each class only once per week (say at lunch), that would be four lunches per week that I’d be using. Given the fact that I teach before and after lunch for multiple periods in a row, I’m worried that I’ll feel overextended if I try to implement this all immediately (i.e. having six or even seven periods in a row doesn’t seem like it will do anyone any good!). So then I wonder – perhaps I should only start the co-gen dialogues with one or two classes? But how to choose which class needs it the most?
  • Second is the logistics of going into the students’ spaces. I know his experience is in New York, but it seems like many of the schools he refers to has students who primarily come from the same neighborhood. My old school had students from all over Manhattan and even some from Brooklyn or Queens or the Bronx. I don’t know where all of my students at my new school come from, but I’m not sure how to enter these places for them to see how they interact in the barbershops and places of worship. I also have the fear of being seen as an invader and unwelcome, which I acknowledge is a fear that I have the privilege to avoid dealing with, but I’m not sure how to enter those spaces in a way that feels respectful and inquisitive.
  • One of suggestions that took me aback was the suggestion to ask students questions in the beginning of the year to help me get to know them and ensure diversity in the group selected for cogens. He suggested some questions that I have asked students in the past like, “What is your favorite subject?” but I would not have considered asking “What is your ethnicity?” When I saw that in the list of suggested questions, I was so taken aback that I asked my partner how she would answer that question (white), and I wondered how helpful that was, and whether people of color would respond “generically” or specifically to this question. I also wondered whether it would make students or their families uncomfortable that their teacher was asking those questions and whether they might think I was going to use it to be racist against some group of students. Since seeing it in print, I’ve been questioning my discomfort with it, and I’m curious how others reacted to the suggestion to ask this question.
  • I have to admit that I’m a bit confused by the suggested use of “Can I proceed?” followed by “Yes indeed.” The intention (according to the way I read it in the book) is that the teacher is concerned with ensuring that all students understand what is being taught. But if I’m a student who is confused at the moment that the teacher says “Can I proceed?” and the rest of my classmates are responding “yes indeed” – how do I voice that confusion? So it feels counterintuitive in this moment, used in this way… I think I need to reflect more on how to deploy this, and perhaps as I mentioned before, ask my students for suggestions.
  • Another one of my questions is that I feel like there’s perhaps an underlying assumption that schools are somewhat segregated, and if you’re a “white folk who teaches in the hood” all of your students are neoindigenous. However, my last school was quite diverse in terms of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and my new school is still diverse (though not quite as much). So my question is about how to deploy these same techniques (what changes and what stays the same) when you also have white kids in the classroom? How do you help unpack the knapsack, change their thinking and awareness, and also bridge the fact that some of the experiences that Chris takes for granted as being common (like the rap cypher, for example) are not being universal. I never heard that term before him (though I’d bet my brother and cousin both have, as they’re more into that style of music than I am).

I definitely saw myself in some of the teachers that he describes in the book. I was totally the teacher who over plans the lesson by scripting it, but then has difficulty adapting to the real live students in my classes. I specifically focused on this skill during my first few years of teaching, and I think I’ve gotten much better at this skill – but this book made me realize how far I still have to go in improving my reach to neoindigenous youth.

There’s so much in this book to digest and think about that I honestly don’t think I’ll be able to do it all at once. I think I need to choose a few small chunks, implement them, make mistakes, improve, and then choose another small chunk to improve again, and keep trying and adding on. I get a bit overwhelmed at the idea of going from cogens to coteaching to cosmo duos all in one year when I’ve never tried any of it. Funny enough, part of the reason that I haven’t blogged the last few days is because each day during my blogging hours, I’ve sat down and written this post and reread passages from the book. This digestion is as much for me (to help me remember also) as it is for the readers here to learn about the awesomeness of this book or to help me address my questions (and tackle my fears).


One thought on “Reality Pedagogy with @ChrisEmdin #MTBoSBlagust #MTBoS

  1. Call and response is great within reason — it builds the sense of community with a shared code and builds routines — but I share your concern with it devolving into a situation where you’re the one who’s confused but…others are responding “yes, indeed!” and at a certain point turns into mindlessness and blind following.

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