For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood: A Reflection

By Mr. Westbrooks

Emdin-ForWhiteFolksWhoTeachintheHood-663x1024Around this time last year, Dr. Chris Emdin delivered the keynote message on the topic of culturally relevant pedagogy for the Drop the Mic conference held at the Newark Museum. He had copies of his book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood and the Rest of Y’all Too available for purchase, and it was a title that was already on my reading wish list, but unfortunately, he ran out of copies before I could get mine. I knew I could purchase it anytime, but owning an autographed copy was a rare opportunity.

Fast forward to August of this year during our training/PD week. One of my administrators got copies of For White Folks for all of the teachers in our sub-department. Upon completing it last weekend, I tweeted a picture of the cover and mentioned Chris. He promptly replied (which I wasn’t expecting) and suggested that we discuss what I read. To prepare for our conversation, I decided to organize my thoughts on paper/screen before we engaged in our build. Here are the key takeaways that I plan to bring up in my talk with Chris and implement in my own practice. The following topics don’t reflect everything discussed in the book. In an effort to not overwhelm myself or spread myself too thin, I narrowed down the book’s topics to the five themes or practices that resonated with me the most and that I was willing to immediately put into action.

  1. Cogenerative Dialogues

The cogenerative dialogue is the idea that teachers collaborate with students to implement positive changes in the classroom. The structure Chris describes involves selecting a small group of four students from a variety of skill levels and behavior types to meet with the teacher for a brief time either during lunch or after school. During these meetings, the students would voice their opinions on what issues their class was facing and what needs to be done in order to make it better. I’ve always asked my students for feedback, but maybe I’ll switch up the style a bit and obtain my feedback in this small group, invitation-only structure. That’s a question I need to ask Chris: If I’m carrying out the cogens, am I only receiving feedback from the participants in the cogen?

As teachers, most of our direct feedback is coming from administrators and other teachers, but the students are the ones affected most by our classroom experience. We can gain valuable insights and take our classes to the next level by listening to what they have to say. Kids hold nothing back too. They will tell you the truth!

  1. The Black Church, Pastor and Rapper Aesthetics

For Black church Sunday services, there’s always a program with an order of events or agenda that the attendees follow. However, the service often goes off schedule when someone catches the Holy Spirit, or when the pastor “gets excited” durin

g his sermon and start to freestyle. To an extent, it’s acceptable for our classrooms to be similar. Some of the best learning moments happen when you allow students to break away from the lesson plan (script) to ask questions or make comments that are not directly related to the topic at hand.

If a teacher is moved, he or she can exhibit the speaking styles of the Black pastor, namely the call and response technique as a method of engaging “neoindigenous” (urban) youth. Rappers do the same thing, and Jelani Cobb’s comparison of Black pastors and rappers in his book To The Break of Dawn is reminiscent of this notion.


  1. Aesthetically Appealing, Relevant and Welcoming Spaces

How can you expect students to feel welcomed, to learn, and to express themselves fullyand openly if the appearance of the classroom isn’t appealing? I’m aware of the importance of this, but I admit this has been a challenge for me with acquiring the resources to make my classroom look poppin,’ and that includes both the a

ctual materials to decorate and the time.

My arrangement of the desks into a semi-circle and the posting of my drawings that I did for my college art class and a picture from my last Reisling-influenced Paint and Sip class helped to somewhat make the room feel less like jail and traditional school. I’ve also set up my graffiti wall, which was an idea I got from the book. I couple of students have signed it already, and I have a poster of Nas and album cover stickers from my homie Tenn Stacks. It’s a start until I can get some more items.

  1. Context and Content: Community Involvement and Participation

Chris has a vignette in the “Context and Content” chapter about how a basketball game with his students led to further invitations to his students’ cultural contexts outside of the classroom, and how participation in those contexts resulted in a transformed classroom. The students are surprised and appreciative whenever I show up to their games and events. Within the last two school years, I’ve attended football and basketball games, track meets, a few art shows, and a law debate. In a less formal setting, my students have seen me shopping or walking around downtown. I want to take it to the next level, so I can start receiving invitations to events that are outside the school-sponsored extra-curricular activities.

Educators and education leaders often discuss the importance of building relationships and how that affects the students’ academic performance and social-emotional well-being. You can’t talk about building relationships and not talk about stepping out of the school building into your students’ cultural contexts.

  1. Teacher Perceptions

Perception is everything. It should be the first thing that teachers check, but why is it number 5 on my list? Our assumptions, preconceived notions, and attitudes about our neoindigenous youth will reflect in how they see themselves and what they can achieve. My perceptions and expectations of my students are high, but I must question if my students are aware of that, or if I need to be more explicit with my students about my perceptions of them. Or, can they tell just from my vibes?

Final note: You can know all of the pedagogy and everything about lesson plan designing, but Chris points out that it is the non-instructional pieces that are the game-changers, which I appreciate that the most about his book. If only school districts and administrators placed more value on these factors.

Nick & Chris