Speaker shares advice for urban educators

Mar 14, 2017

Teachers from the Buffalo Public and Cheektowaga Central School Districts heard from a best-selling author about how to relate students of color in the classroom. WBFO's Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley says Dr. Christopher Emdin was the keynote speaker at the Urban Forum Speaker Series held at Bennett High School in Buffalo Monday.   

Dr. Christopher Emdin was the keynote speaker at the Urban Forum Speaker Series held at Bennett High School in Buffalo Monday.
Credit WBFO News photo by Jonny Moran

Students from the City Honors chorale group kicked off the professional development event Monday.  It was titled "Keeping it Real: Reality Pedagogy and A Call for Social Justice." It was the second annual Urban Education Forum. 

Buffalo Schools Superintended Dr. Kriner Cash said over a year ago he issued the New Education Bargain with Parents and Students. Cash points to the new populations of students coming to the district from over 100 countries, speaking over 80 languages. He pointed out that over 80 percent of students are African American, Hispanic and living in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods of Buffalo

“Education always beats incarceration, and this is probably the greatest social justice issue of our time, is to educate well. Increase access, increase opportunity and increase quality of educational experiences for all of our students, but especially for our students who happen to be poor and who are of color,” Cash explained.   

City school teachers often deal with students who are experiencing violence somewhere in their lives. Cash said it seems to be increasing. Cash declared it must stop. He said the pattern of violence and imprisonment must be reversed.

“Thirty-five percent of our young people have said that have seen—not heard about—have seen someone get shot, stabbed or beaten, and so when they come to school we have to be sensitive about how to support, how to still nurture, give tough love and not escalate potential negative interactions with our students,” Cash said.

Dr. Christopher Emdin was the keynote speaker.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“We’re going to talk today, alright. I have a few disclaimers. Over the course of my talk in this hour I will probably say something that will offend someone,” declared Emdin. 

When Dr. Christopher Emdin took to the stage, he delivered a fast-paced, high energy speech to the educators.

“Teachers just need practical and tangible things and you have to give them small steps,” Emdin said.

Emdin serves as an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science, and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University. He's also the author of the New York Times Best-Seller, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood and the Rest of Y'all Too.

Emdin called on educators to "teach the whole person," understanding to understand that many children are coming from difficult home lives and neighborhoods.  

Dr. Christopher Emdin address educators.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“How do you construct conversations with young people to get them all engaged? How do you the young people feel empowered by letting them teach? Those kind of really small and simple practices, but first you have to get folks that are philosophically in the same boat and once you do that, and they get thirsty for more, you can give them some of the practically,” Emdin remarked.

Emdin said for students who witness violence and death in their lives, they are not creating spaces for them to talk about what they are dealing with. He referred to what's happening in many urban districts PTSD—Poor Teaching in Schools Disorder.

“How do you just make the class look better?" Emdin asked. "How do you put curtains on certain windows and couches in certain places so it feels like home and if it feels like home they’re more likely to sort of like let go of some of those tensions that they bring from the real word."

“Most important thing is really getting to know our children—where they come from, where they live and understanding who they are and letting them have that voice in the classroom,” said Mary Morris, Cheektowaga Central School Superintendent.

Morris brought along her entire administrative team to hear Dr. Emdin's message.

Mary Morris, Cheektowaga Central School Superintendent.
Credit WBFO News photo by Jonny Moran

As a first ring suburb of the city of Buffalo, Morris noted the need for a culturally responsive system to teach diverse groups of students.

“If we leave here and do nothing, nothing will change. He talked about getting in the dirt—that’s the important piece and that’s the hard part, and unless you are willing to do that you won’t see any change,” Morris stated.

“Most of the issues in education can be addressed by a very simple phenomena that don’t even require much funding, like an educator that listens,” Emdin said.

Dr. Emdin tells WBFO most importantly students just want to be heard.

“Having young folks feel as though their voice matters and how the school runs, what they eat, having a mural painted that represents who they are,” responded Emdin.