Want To Teach In Urban Schools? Get To Know The Neighborhood

  • 2016-04-13
  • NPR

Years ago, in a Brooklyn high school, a door slammed. Christopher Emdin, then a 10th-grader, immediately ducked under his desk. His math teacher accused him of being a clown and sent him to the principal's office.

Emdin wasn't being a clown.

A couple of days before, there had been a shooting just outside his apartment building. He thought the slamming door was a gun shot. His jump for cover was instinctual.

Now, with a few degrees and a decade of teaching experience, Christopher Emdin is reexamining this kind of student-teacher miscommunication in a new book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... And the Rest of Y'All Too.

In it, he argues that teachers in urban schools too often don't come from the same neighborhoods and backgrounds as their students.

And, he argues, this colors their teaching and makes them less effective.

Like the book's title, Emdin is blunt about the realities of urban schools, but he has some advice for teachers.

Interview Highlights

Teachers can't be colorblind. It does their students a disservice.

"People who perceive themselves to be colorblind often times have biases that are hidden by their colorblindness," Emdin says. Young people in urban spaces have different linguistic and cultural realities, like the gun shots that Emdin experienced.

If teachers recognize that difference, they can help their students deal with issues such as PTSD. If the trauma of their day-to-day life goes untreated, students won't be able to learn effectively.

But, if they heal, "then they can learn. And if they can learn, then they can be successful."