Monday, March 30, 2009

Inquiry Project Description

What kinds of relationships are necessary between schools and communities?

What are the various relationships between schools and communities that are necessary to bring quality education to the inner cities? From our readings and my study of research journals it is plain that for any school to succeed it requires more than brilliant lesson plans, cutting-edge educational theory, dedicated teachers, or even piles of money. Reform efforts that focus solely on the schools themselves are doomed to fail. I’m interested in examining the symbiotic nature of schools and communities; how efforts to improve one will affect the other. As this topic could be incredibly broad and complex, I’ll be focusing on the effects of community organizations and schools that recognize this symbiotic relationship and target work to affect change with this relationship in mind.

I’ll be gathering information about schools such as:
Landmark HS, NYC
El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice, Brooklyn
Renaissance High School for Musical Theater and Technology, Bronx

Sample Organizations:
Coalition of Essential Schools
The United Way Of Essex And West Hudson
Boys & Girls Clubs of Newark

I’ll be gathering data from websites, publications, and hopefully interviews.
Some possible subjects include:
Norman Glickman of the Rutgers Center for Urban Policy Research
Boys & Girls Clubs of Newark Unit Director
School Board Meeting
Parents and students from target schools

Besides the general philosophy and mission of the progressive, holistic school movement, I’m interested in learning about personal experiences and feelings of some people directly involved in this work. I’m looking for data that may help me in my quest to become the most effective teacher I can be in my community, and enroll others in the possibility that reform is achievable.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Annotated Bibliography

Glickman, N. J., & Scally, C. P. (2008). Can Community And Education Organizing Improve Inner-city Schools? Journal of Urban Affairs, 30(5), 557-577.

This study looked at the benefits and shortcomings of community education organizing, how the symbiotic relationship of community and school can be bootstrapped into sustained improvement in both spheres. The process used to build community in school environments is divided into 3 main parts. 1) Building a community’s social capital to develop leaders and increase political power, 2) Demanding public accountability and improving community and school connections to develop a sense of joint responsibility to the school’s success, 3) Developing the community capacity for solving problems collectively. This part requires achieving specific desired outcomes and leads to a recursive feedback loop, further strengthening the community and schools. Various methods of measuring the success of education organizing are discussed along with specific examples from around the country. The author’s conclusion is that while some outcomes, such as student testing, have not met expectations, the benefits to the community overall are clear.

Sanders, M. G., & Lewis, K. C. (2005). Building Bridges Toward Excellence: Community Involvement in High Schools. High School Journal, 88(3), 1-9.

The authors examine the attitudes and motivations of community partnerships in high schools. Using three high schools as case studies it was found that similar difficulties resulted in a lower degree of partnership compared to elementary schools in the same regions. This was attributed mainly to features unique to high schools, primarily school size and structure, and the initiative and training of faculty and administration. Also, school staff emphasized a lack of time as a disincentive. The types of programs presented as successful examples seem to my eye to be fairly ordinary, and not particularly beneficial to the community as a whole, but geared more toward improving individual student achievement and general school improvement. Common student centered activities included student scholarships, tutoring and mentoring programs, and job shadowing. Community partnership examples included co-sponsored cultural events, health fairs, food drives, and advertisements in monthly school newsletters. The authors offered advice for schools interested in promoting community partnerships: prioritize the process, permit time, and promote community ownership.

Hayes, D., & Chodkiewicz, A. (2006). School-Community Links: Supporting Learning in the Middle Years. Research Papers in Education, 21(1), 3-18.

This qualitative study looked at how schools and communities contribute to student engagement in low-income middle schools. The study looked at relations between school and community from three perspectives: 1) student focused links at the school and community level, 2) parent focused links, regarding communication and family development, and 3) community focused links at the district and school level. The study uncovered a disconnect between their understanding of the nature of community and learning. Among all groups was the belief that learning is an activity relegated to schools. High school executives acknowledged the importance of school-community links, but gave them low priority as they felt these links had little impact on learning. Widespread was the belief that teachers play the most important role in influencing learners in the middle school years, but parents expressed frustration in communicating with teachers, and teachers expressed the same about parents. Students especially, had a limited definition of learning, relegating it almost exclusively to the school. They were aware of teachers’ low expectations and felt that their characterization as “at risk” students was imposed by the educational system and didn’t accurately represent who they were. They spoke of their frustration and powerlessness at the limiting nature this had on their ability to direct their futures. The authors identified a lack of funding to be a major barrier to providing more resources, as time and staff shortages were at the center of much of the complaints from the school staff and administration. However, attitudes of school- based personnel are seen as the primary hurdle to support of more community based initiatives.

Boyd-Zaharias, J., & Pate-Bain, H. (2008). Class Matters--In and out of School. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(1), 40-44.

This article was an interesting outline of the major issues related to closing the achievement gap in our schools. The authors map their strategy to Maslow’s Hierarchy of a Self Actualized Society. At the bottom, the foundation of transformation they have placed affordable housing in stable neighborhoods, citing the correlation between student high mobility and poor performance in schools. Next is a living income and health care; there is a well-documented link between poverty and children’s’ readiness for school. Early childhood education is the next step, and has strong research-based evidence to show that it saves both children and money. The last step before self-actualization is smaller K-3 classes and improved instructional practices. Although the evidence for the benefits of smaller K-3 classes is clear, more study is needed to assess the effects of smaller classes in the higher grades. In addition to this pyramid plan, the authors advocate educating policy-makers of “three inconvenient truths.” 1) The class inequities in our country are at unacceptable levels, and growing. 2) School reform alone will never be sufficient to close the achievement gap. 3) To make real, lasting change in the social and economic ills affecting lower-class children’s lives will cost a great deal of money. A starting point, according to the authors, would be for the federal government to live up to its promises of money under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the precursor to NCLB.) Since 2002, the report states, the government has failed to pay states and school districts $54.7 billion. I wonder if it might not make sense to reexamine the costs of complying with NCLB; maybe the benefits aren’t worth the hamstrings.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Culture-My Community

Whenever I am given an assignment like this I immediately panic with thoughts like “What in the world am supposed to write about?” I don’t even know what is meant by “culture;” I had to look it up so I’d be on the same page as everyone else. For the record, it’s “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.” Or, alternately, “the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group,” or “society, way of life, lifestyle; customs, traditions, heritage, habits, ways, mores, values.” Just what I thought; it’s impossibly broad and compounded by a slippery, quicksilver habit of changing, depending on how and when you look at it. So I’m back where I started, what to do? I think, for the purposes of this blog I’m going to define culture as that which is without myself that has had an influence on how I relate to the world, what I expect from it, and so on.

As we are social creatures, I suppose we’re most affected by the people we’ve spent the most time with. Who am I as an individual and as a professional? In a way I think it goes back to the experience of noticing how we carry ourselves differently according to the company we keep. You know, it shows up when friends from your different worlds collide, and though you might get along great with each of them separately, together there’s a quandary as to who you should be. I think this phenomenon points out the symbiotic affect people have when they are together, and speaks to the importance of knowing who we are for our students in the classroom. I’m not suggesting we put on an act for our students and deny them, and ourselves, who we really are; rather, I believe by knowing ourselves we can be what is best, and most appropriate to the environment of the school.

One thing I’ve noticed is how my initial reaction of panic is so predictable, where does it come from? I’ve always done well in school, why do I panic so over assignments? I suspect that my upbringing in a middle class household might shed some light. My parents were from working class backgrounds and had clawed their way up a couple of rungs of the ladder and landed in the world of the desk job. Our family didn’t lack for what we needed, but there wasn’t much left over for extras. Sometimes things were tight, and I think a feeling that the slightest mistake might send us back down the ladder must have percolated into my thinking process. When faced with a new situation, my initial reaction is not to see the opportunity, but look for the risk. My parents emphasized the importance of following the rules, not making waves, keeping my head down. I can remember being called to the principal’s office in High School, and my bafflement as to what I must have done wrong. Nothing. He just wanted to give me some kind of certificate for good scholarship or something (note- I don’t remember the award, just the feeling I had been caught.) I couldn’t believe he even knew who I was; I don’t think I had said two sentences to him in four years. What I’m getting at is that in examining my automatic negative reaction, I’m made aware that my students from the inner city likely have similar negative reactions, though of a more intense variety. Add to their troubles the issues of poverty, race, systemic discrimination, substance abuse, broken homes, and more; issues I’ve not dealt with, and it’s easy to see how school might not come easy to these kids.

I’m from the Southern middle class; I grew up in a brand new suburb on the edge of Richmond, Virginia. One block from our house was a highway (the city line,) and down the street in the opposite direction was woodland in which I spent my formative years playing “Huck Finn.” I built rafts and forts, caught crawdads, and poked dead possums with sticks. When I was young, about second grade, I brought home a friend from school, Darnell, an African-American. I didn’t think anything about it; he was just my friend. My Mom welcomed Darnell, as she would any visitor, but after a few play dates I began to notice a kind of awkward stiffness in the way our parents interacted when we dropped him home. No one said anything to me, but eventually the message got through that our friendship wasn’t approved of, and we eventually stopped playing together. I missed Darnell, at first. But I had lots of other friends to play with that no one objected to. I think there couldn’t have been more than three or four African Americans in our whole school, and none in my neighborhood; that’s a pretty small gene pool to pick your friends from. What could that have felt like for Darnell? I can’t know. But as an artistic and un-athletic kid, I had some experience of feeling the outsider, considered weird, picked last.

I was tormented or ignored through most of school, and my Mom encouraged our family to consider ourselves outsiders to Virginia. We had moved to Richmond from the great “Northern” city of Baltimore, and she always considered herself (and her progeny) better than native Southerners. To her it seemed all “those women” were either members of the Daughters of the Confederacy, or believed in ghosts. My parents weren’t highly educated, but they loved to read and we had hundreds of books. In contrast, our next-door neighbors hardly had any books; reading was something you had to do for work or school. If you wanted to have fun, you got a six-pack, a bag of peanuts, and sat in a lawn chair in the front yard and listened to the stock car races on the radio. My parents would ballroom dance for fun. So you could say we didn’t really fit into our neighborhood. At least our family was politically conservative, like every other family we knew. It wasn’t until I went to art school that I began to meet people with radically different perspectives and experiences than me. Art school an eye opener in so many ways, we were taught to embrace differences, and question the status quo. Later, while attending an artist-colony-school deep in the Smokey Mountains (all white) I was fortunate have the experience of living in a non-competitive community, where we were valued for our individual talents that we were able to share with others. The sense of well being and belonging in such a setting cannot be underestimated. The confidence and happiness I gained there made it possible for me to move to New York City with only a few hundred dollars, and no friends there to help me learn the ropes.

Up to that point in my life I had had almost no direct experience with people of other ethnicity or nation of origin. I was so lily white, my grandmother was a descendant of the Mayflower pilgrims; I had no frame of reference to contrast with my life as a white, American, middle class, male. New York was a shock. Everything I had taken for granted was flipped upside down. There, I slowly realized that simply by virtue of my skin color, nationality, and gender I had advantages that others didn’t. Get a cab? No problem (once someone taught me how. I was from the suburbs, after all!) Get an apartment? OK! I noticed that being male carried unspoken connotations, like on dark nights when women would cross to the other side of the street rather than meet up with me on the sidewalk. My girlfriend at the time was a social activist, and it was through conversations with her about invisible privilege I grudgingly came to see that our society was deeply, and systemically, racist and sexist. It was hard to see at first, especially since I was living hand to mouth, with no insurance, and didn’t feel particularly privileged. But at every turn I saw people with fewer choices than I.

My experiences growing up led me to believe that in our country, if you followed the rules and did your best you’d be rewarded, but now I know that this is sadly not reality for so many. I see the benefits that come from parents who prepared me for a lifetime of reading. I see the confidence and joy that come from being accepted and valued. I see the ease that being part of the dominant culture brings to daily living. I see the peace of mind that a safety net of friends, family, and unseen privilege can provide. This probing of my cultural influences serves to remind me that as a teacher I have an especially critical part to play in the lives of my students. Our possibilities, our choices in life depend upon much more than our own will. I intend to approach teaching with the sensitivity that how my students see life may be radically different from how I grew up seeing it, or even how I see it now. I still believe that hard work and dedication is necessary to succeed, but that’s tempered by the knowledge that there is more to the equation. One of my jobs as a teacher, more important than subject matter, is to open children up to the possibility that they carry within them. We need children to understand that they can reach their potential despite what messages may be transmitted by the subtext of our culture. My varied experiences have given me a glimpse into some of the issues that face students of urban schools and allow me to approach teaching there with a measure of empathy and understanding. I know that in the classroom, students will see me through their own lens of experience, just as I see them through mine. From my religion I carry the belief in the inherent dignity and worth of every individual, and I strive to maintain that ideal in all aspects of my life, especially the classroom. I think this belief will go a long way in helping me to be the best teacher I can be.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Some Examples of How Media Shapes our Perceptions

In America the influence of popular culture is all pervasive. It colors every aspect of our lives from early childhood until death. I don’t think you could even call that a bold statement, it’s so self-evident. As a child of the 60’s, the tail-end of the boomers, I was a member the first generation to grow up never knowing life without TV. Sure, my parent’s generation had been exposed to mass media; images up on the silver screen, and before that, the voices on the radio. But the deluge of commercials, “scientifically” designed by those guys on Madison (see Mad Men) didn’t kick in until my generation. I’ve heard it said that in this post-industrial society our most successful export is our culture (and I’m not talking about fine art and opera.) In fact, I heard on NPR that across the Arabic-speaking world American TV fare such as “24,” “MTV,” and “8 Simple Rules,” prove popular even when our government does not. Living here in the eye of the media storm I think it’s easy to become inured to the effect that the media has on our thinking. In the USSR we called it “propaganda,” here we call it “good business.” After all, a nation of sheeple nurtured on a diet devoid of critical thinking is so much easier to control.

So, I’ve been asked to produce a few examples of popular media and comment on how I see them fitting into the narrative of education in this country. I’ve wracked my brain and scoured the internet to try and jar loose some decent examples, but I find my memory tends towards general impressions and symbols rather than detailed recollection.
Well, here goes nothing:

Urban- “Scared Straight”
This was a documentary that came out in 1978 and was aired on TV. Looking back, it shares a lot with today’s crop of reality television in the way a group of participants are chosen, put in an artificial situation, and then cameras roll as we get the chance to see how they react. However, this movie has a purpose beyond mere titillation or entertainment. The participants, 15- to 19-year-old boys who are repeat offenders are taken to Rahway State Prison in New Jersey in lieu of jail time to listen to the ranting of inmates who paint a picture of prison life so terrible that the kids are scared into going “straight.” I remember it was a big deal at the time, partly for the uncensored cursing, and partly for the truly menacing and terrifying prisoners who reminded me why it is a really bad idea to go to jail. I can remember the insolent attitudes of the young men melting in the face of a barrage of abuse from the prisoners, transforming them back into boys, afraid of where they were headed. Not really much on school, but that was the idea. These weren’t kids who went to class, at least not prior to being “scared straight.” There were follow-up movies (which I missed,) in which we discover if the boys stayed out of trouble. Most did, but the boys with the worst attitudes ended up in jail.

Suburban- “Dazed and Confused”
This is the film that says the most about my own experiences in school (minus the weird hazing spanking.) It takes place on the last day of school in 1976, and follows kids from different social and economic classes as they painfully navigate the typical challenges of suburban high school. I think one thing that resonates with me is their search for a sense of belonging. We see the jocks, stoners, nerds, and so on, circling and weaving, trying to locate the place where they can have the greatest self autonomy, and be accepted on their own terms. Even though the movie identifies the kids through clich├ęd stereotypes, the characterizations felt true and accurate to my own experiences of school. I think that this is in some degree due to our definitions of school being shaped though its depiction in popular media. I can remember participating in events at that time and thinking, for example, “So this is me, going to the prom, like in those shows. How come it doesn’t feel the way I was led to believe it would feel? Is that all there is to a prom?” That feeling of something missing seemed common to my friends as well, at least the friends who were somewhat self aware. I think the movie captures that feeling, wandering town, looking for action. As a bonus it’s got dead-on mid-seventies styles, cars, and paneling. Plus a killer soundtrack.

Rural- “American Graffiti” - 
Honestly, I don’t know if this really qualifies as rural, I haven’t seen it in 25 years. It’ another coming of age story, like “Dazed and Confused,” with a large cast and multiple storylines. I put it the rural category because it exemplifies the small town values that permeate movies about rural America. To me the movie is about loss of innocence, and the way youth sometimes rush to leave childhood behind, and sometimes don’t. The kids in this movie all know one another, and one another’s business. Like “Dazed and Confused,” all the action takes place in a single night, but in this film the teens are having one last expression of freedom before the end of summer. The world depicted here seems so foreign and distant, it might as well be from another country. It revels in the simple joys of small town life: cruising the strip, stopping at the drive-in, and listening to the radio. I saw all this behavior first hand when I lived in a small rural town in North Carolina’s Smokey Mountains.

Music: I had the most trouble finding examples in the music category.
Though I can’t recall specific tunes or lyrics about school, the sounds of early rap and hip hop are quintessentially urban and youth-oriented. I remember hearing rap the first time when the Sugarhill Gang played at an amusement park I worked at over the summers. "Rapper's Delight," their big hit, was a goofy dance song, popular with the kids, and straight out of New York. It was a new musical form that seemed exotic to a suburban guy who drove a Chevy Nova to work in an amusement park. Later, on the day I moved to Brooklyn from that small town in North Carolina, I tuned my radio and found “Mr. Magic's Rap Attack” playing all manner of exotic rap. There, on the BQE, I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. I heard things like Public Enemy’s "Don't Believe the Hype" which pointed out the stereotypes faced by young black men and ferociously declared them to be lies. 

Suburban- “School's Out”-by Alice Cooper – 
Could there be a more suburban white-boy song about school? There’s nothing there that explicitly says “suburbs,” it could express the feelings of kids from anywhere; it’s universal that way. But where I come from Alice Cooper was a god. His concerts with the snakes, and the gallows, and fire and whatnot were must see events (Note- I was too much of a nerd to actually go to, or own Alice Cooper products- he was kind of scary.) Anyway, all my friends went, and the shows were filled with kids exactly like them. Why did Alice appeal to suburban white kids? I think a clue can be found in the lyrics of “School’s Out.” 
Well we got no class
And we got no principles
And we got no innocence
We can't even think of a word that rhymes

I can’t help but think that last line must have appealed to kids rebelling against their parents’ middle class, college bound, values.

Rural- “Harper Valley PTA”- Tom T. Hall – 
Another example of small town values, but this time it’s pointed out that beneath the appearance of propriety is a cesspool of hypocrisy. The song is the story of a single mom (widowed) who is called to task by the high school PTA for carrying on with men, wearing her skirts too short and generally being an unfit mother. She confronts the group at their meeting and points out all the truly skanky things that the PTA members do when they suppose no one is watching. At the end she calls Harper Valley a little Peyton Place, a name which calls attention to the soap opera quality of their lifestyles. This is the idyllic small town life turned on its head and run smack into the problems that are faced in bigger cities. The veneer is thin.

Urban- Mad TV - "Public School House Rock – Nouns"
This little clip points out humorously, the expectations we have of urban schooling. Using the form of the Saturday morning educational cartoon series “School House Rock” we are treated to images of gangbangers, crackheads, guns, teachers on strike, graffiti covered hallways, drugs, set fires, and drunk principals in a catchy ditty teaching us the meaning of nouns. Kind of covers the bases, don’t you think?

Suburban- “The Wonder Years”
What “Dazed and Confused” does for my high school years, The Wonder Years” does for my years in elementary and junior high school. The show gets the all the details from the rows of identical houses, to the voice of the science teacher droning over the filmstrip they watch in class. It has stay at home moms, pitchers of Cool-Aid, and station wagons with fake wood panels. This show also concerns kid’s coming of age and loss of innocence, though I think it is also about our country’s loss of innocence as we entered the age of Watergate.

Rural- "The Andy Griffith Show" – 
Again, a small town stand-in for rural life. Mayberry is a town so small and safe that the police chief refuses to carry a gun, and the key to the jail cell is next to the door so the town drunk (remember when that was considered a comic character?) can let himself in and out. In this show people can be small, and take offense at little slights, but mostly the strength of country character shows through. There is a strong sense of community; the townsfolk really care about one another, bringing covered dishes for celebrations as well as sad occasions. People are mostly accepted as they are, warts and all, and there isn’t much value placed on the fast, big city ways. When Opie skips off to school, you half expect to see the old, wooden, one-room schoolhouse of the “Little Rascals,” but instead, it’s the brick, factory style school. Inside, the teacher is strict, but understanding, straight out of a “Dick and Jane” book.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Frame of Reference

It was an ordinary day at school when the health teacher went into the hall outside her class to quiet some loud students. She spoke calmly, noting that the girls should get to their classes and that their talking was disturbing her class. In response, one of the girls assaulted the teacher, repeatedly striking her head against the wall lockers until the custodians were able to pull the girl away. After months of medical and psychological therapy the teacher was forced to give up her career, citing neurological damage and PTSD.

Although this story resembles a “made for TV” movie about a blighted school in a big city, it is all too true and happened to a friend of mine in a beautiful, Art Deco high school in the small city of Ogden, Utah. I had previously lived in larger metropolises; Berkely, California, and Queens, New York, and had laughed at the idea of central Ogden as a scary inner city. My quiet, tree-lined neighborhood of well-kept, Craftsman style houses, adjacent to a large elementary school seemed as far as you could get from what I understood as the mean streets of Long Island City. Living there, I was accustomed to seeing junkies lined up in front of the methadone clinic a block from my apartment. Daily, I saw a busload of youth arrive at the hulking, old school across the street. Their arrival was notable for the bars on their bus windows, and the armed guards who looked over them; these children had traveled from their cells on Riker’s Island to attend school. My commute to work usually involved passing streetwalkers, avoiding scavengers picking over the carcass of abandoned cars, and excusing myself past people smoking crack in the entryway of my destination. Utah felt like another world. In Ogden I could walk around my neighborhood at any hour, and not look over my shoulder. Our house was often unlocked, and neighbors often gathered for impromptu block parties. There, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, we enjoyed each other’s company, having drinks in lawn chairs as we watched our kids play together in the golden light of the sunset.

On that day my friend was beaten, the reality of the area I lived in was brought home. I realized that what I thought I knew about urban schools was mostly wrong, including what an urban school was. The signs that my community was an “inner city” were all around me, but I had missed them, looking instead for more obvious, catastrophic evidence, like stripped cars, and drug dealers hanging around street corners. Part of my expectations derived from my experiences living in New York City at the height of the crack and AIDS epidemic. However, a large part of my understanding of inner city life was formed by the stories I heard on the news and saw depicted in movies.

In movies like “Death Wish,” “Fort Apache- the Bronx,” and “New Jack City,” the message was clear; the people in the inner city were either predators or prey, perpetrators or victims. Even though my time living in New York had tempered these extreme impressions there was still plenty of evidence to keep the idea of the “dangerous inner city” alive. Daily headlines like “Headless Man In Topless Bar,” and “Two Students Shot in School on Day Mayor to Visit” reminded me that while New York was an acceptable risk for me as a young adult, I’d have to be crazy to raise a family there. Urban education in the media held little promise either. Whether it was the goofy underachievers of “Welcome Back Kotter,” the burned-out educators of “Teachers,” or the “tough love” of “Lean on Me,” learning seemed like an unlikely proposition for these kids.

My prior knowledge of urban life led me to believe that my young family would be safe in Ogden; the streets were quiet, the schools were not barred, and there were no stripped cars in sight. But appearances are deceptive. What wasn’t obvious were the statistics that could be had from city hall. The elementary schools in our area had a 100% student turnover rate, attributed to the transient immigrant population. The federal government had designated the downtown area in extreme need. According to the police department the block where my wife worked and my children attended day care was ground zero for criminal acts in the city. The gang presence also thrived in the shadows. True, there was a small amount of graffiti in town and you saw low-riders occasionally, but it didn’t seem like anything to worry about. In fact, the growth of gangs was among the fastest in the nation, and the FBI had to institute a gang prevention program to address the problem. It was clear that what I knew about urban life and education wasn’t even close to reality. If Ogden and its schools could be this bad, how much worse would it be in a “real” inner city? Of course, that’s the wrong question, and buys into the whole media image of urban life as dangerous and out of control. The real lesson is that we need to be careful about assumptions, and not take anything at face value. Even so, given what I know, the feelings I connect with the urban experience are largely shaped by contrasting my upbringing in a safe, white, middle-class suburb with the drama assigned the inner city by the media. It’s no wonder that I’ve never held a particular interest in teaching in an urban school.

My challenge is to confront my biases and fears to become the best teacher I can be for whomever I am teaching. Most fears come from a place of not knowing, of misunderstanding, and miscommunication. One of the benefits of middle age is a certain amount of perspective. For example, I know I’ve had advantages denied others simply because I’m a white man. As a young man, raised in a suburb surrounded by people who looked and lived just as I did, I had little reason to suspect I had a leg up from the start. I now carry that knowledge into the classroom and it colors the way I see myself, the way I see myself in students’ eyes. What can I do about this besides be myself and approach teaching with a measure of humility and respect? I worry that because of our differences I won’t be able to connect with students I may encounter in an urban school. I believe that everything we do begins with communication; I’ve seen again and again that getting to know one another is the first step to solving most problems. But getting to know oneself is also important. This journal is a step in that direction and will document my struggles to come to a better understanding of the urban school.

As a teacher I expect to constantly learn, from my students, from my colleagues, and from parents. I know, starting out, that whatever I think I know there’s always more. I see my role as modeling this curiosity for my students, helping them find whatever their passion is. I believe in the ideal of democratic education, of enabling students to take control of their knowledge. If our perceptions in large part define our reality, it’s the teacher’s job to make sure students perceive as much as possible and enlarge their possibilities. It is important to remember that students are also affected by the same negative stereotypes of urban education that I am. By helping kids to think critically I hope to be able to mitigate some of the power the media holds over their imaginations.

In doing this assignment I’ve realized that I have many assumptions about education in the inner city. Some are the product of a lifetime bombarded with negative media stereotypes, some are sadly based in fact; but none of my assumptions tell the whole story. As I endeavor to approach this work with an open mind I still have concerns that I’d like addressed. I worry that the gulf between my experiences and that of my students will be too broad to allow us to connect. I worry that I may let my fears overtake me at times, and I wonder if I have what it takes to withstand the special challenges that teaching in an urban setting presents. I look forward to learning more about urban education and perhaps laying my fears to rest.