“Teaching Matters” by Beverly Falk and Megan Blumenreich shows how teachers are meeting complex challenges of urban schools
City College of New York Professors of Education Beverly Falk and Megan Blumenreich’s new book presents an insider’s look at the complex challenges facing urban educators. “Teaching Matters: Stories from Inside City Schools” (The New Press, 2012) tells the stories of 15 teachers who applied analysis and critical thinking to come up with solutions to trying educational issues.
The book examines the complexities of what it takes to support economically disadvantaged children in the classroom. It offers a counterpoint to outside education “experts” who blame the problems of schools on teachers, unions, parents and students, but fail to acknowledge the impact of poverty, which affects one in five school-age children in the United States.
Professors Falk and Blumenreich argue that an effective educator is one who is continually engaged in the study of teaching. They instill that value in their respective teacher preparation programs through “Inquiry Research,” a two-semester course they teach to master’s degree candidates in childhood and early childhood education at CCNY. The stories presented in “Teaching Matters” were culled from 400 studies produced by teachers who took the class.
The class requires participants to generate a meaningful teaching-related question, collect and analyze evidence related to the issue and use what they learn to inform their teaching. “The process of inquiring, collecting data, reflecting and then taking action is an essential strategy for tackling problems of schools and schooling, especially in the complex problems associated with diverse communities,” they say.
The book’s purpose is to show how inquiring about their work can help teachers learn and grow to the benefit of their students. Teachers equipped with these skills are prepared to “critique, challenge and generate knowledge that contributes to improvement of schooling,” they add. Two examples from the book exemplify this.
One example is Adesina, an émigré from Nigeria, whose own problems acclimating to American schools made her sensitive to the problems of immigrant children. She launched a mentoring program for the children and their parents at a local mosque.
Through individual and group conversations with the children and parents whom she worked with, she gained insight into the kinds of supports educators can provide as students transitioned from their old countries to their new schools.
While the urban schools in the United States were better than those of their home countries, the problems they faced still loomed large in the children’s eyes.
Among these were adapting to new foods and stress over their parents’ immigration status.
To alleviate the stresses, Adesina got the school cafeteria to offer peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as an alternative to foods the children disliked. She also encouraged parents to become involved with their children’s schooling. Educators can help children adapt to a new country, she concluded, by providing an environment where children feel safe and supported, so they can bring their “real selves” into the classroom.
Another CCNY student featured in the book is Beatrice, a Filipina American, who felt disconnected from school because she felt different and did not think that what she was learning was relevant to her. Her recollection of those feelings propelled her when she became a second-grade teacher in the South Bronx to bring the perspective of diverse languages, cultures, races and religions into her classroom.
She focused on presenting children with experiences, materials and ideas that exposed them to other countries and cultures and creating an atmosphere of acceptance and respect in her classroom. She found ways to integrate culturally relevant materials into the curriculum including literature, artifacts, music and photos.
As a result, she learned children are eager to share personal experiences when they engage in activities, lessons or stories that connect to them and their culture. Doing this spurred her students to talk and learn from each other, and their participation increased their interest and involvement.
Beatrice’s efforts to be culturally responsive helped strengthen her students’ academic skills, i.e. reading, writing and math, as well as their problem-solving skills. By encouraging children to share their cultural backgrounds, she helped them feel valued and appreciated as individuals and as a group.
When teachers are given opportunities to engage as questioners and reflectors about their work, they are able to construct new knowledge about teaching, Professors Falk and Blumenreich maintain. They can invent new solutions to nagging problems, identify new challenges that need to be addressed and respond to the unique contexts and needs of the children and families of the communities in which they teach.
The images of teaching presented in their book reveal how teachers’ practice-based research can create new knowledge about teaching and learning. In turn, this insight can contribute to efforts to provide the best possible education for all children, especially those in the schools of diverse urban communities, who are most at need.
A reception celebrating the publication of “Teaching Matters” will be held 5 – 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 13, in Room 4/220B, North Academic Center, on the CCNY campus, 160 Convent Ave., New York, NY 10031.
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