Read an Excerpt
200 Plus Educational Strategies to Teach Children of Color
By Jawanza Kunjufu
African American ImagesCopyright © 2009 Jawanza Kunjufu
All rights reserved.
My mentor, the late Dr. Barbara Sizemore, used to tell me that as an educational consultant, my job was to observe students, teachers, and staff in action, objectively listen to their concerns, and then (and only then) assess the situation and offer insights and strategies to help our children. While I am pleased that my book 100+ Educational Strategies to Teach Children of Color became a national bestseller, it might be argued that I compromised my mentor's wise approach by offering strategies before gathering all the evidence.
In my own defense, I'll say that for the past 35 years I have worked with schools and school districts from coast to coast. I have observed and interviewed thousands of students, teachers, staff, administrators, and parents. I have conducted independent literature reviews of research by leading Africentric and mainstream thinkers. And I have documented both my primary and secondary findings in more than 20 books. Rest assured that the strategies presented in 100+ and now 200+ Educational Strategies to Teach Children of Color are based on real schools, real problems, and effective strategies that are working, particularly with underserved African American and Latino students, especially boys and right brain learners, the most neglected student groups in public education.
The most urgent issue in education today is the academic achievement gap between African American and White students. African American and Latino children, especially male children, have a dropout rate in most urban areas that hovers near 50 percent. Our Black and Latino children scored 300 points below White and Asian children on the SAT. There's a three stanine difference between Black and Latino children and White and Asian children on elementary school exams. Our Black and Latino children are about 30 percent of the children in public schools, but they are almost 80 percent of the children placed in special education and less than 15 percent of the gifted and talented children.
I have devoted my entire career to raising awareness of this issue and its many causes, dispelling myths and stereotypes, and offering strategies for success. Yet many educators continue to believe in the inevitability of the gap, and they blame poverty, single parent families, lack of parent involvement, lack of parent educational attainment, how schools are funded, and even genetics.
Clearly we have a problem. We are facing an educational crisis of epic proportions, but those who are charged with improving student performance don't believe the gap can be closed. They have no faith in our children's ability to learn and their own ability to teach. So if a teacher facing a classroom of 30 students doesn't believe she can teach them, her expectations are already at rock bottom, and she will not give them her best. Our children are more than capable of learning and excelling; our teachers need to reacquaint themselves with the population they serve, and they must be open to new strategies and techniques that have proven effective with African American and Latino students. We cannot afford to lose any more children to systemic neglect. We must close the academic achievement gap.
In my book, An African Centered Response to Ruby Payne's Poverty Theory, I make the case that while family income does have an impact on academic achievement, it is not as important as the expectations of teachers. Those educators who agree with Dr. Payne's theory will not only have low expectations of low-income students, they will tend to resist any and all positive approaches. For example, if I tell a teacher that increasing time on task improves grades and test scores, she may not believe it if she has bought into the poverty theory. If I offer our multicultural, Africentric SETCLAE curriculum to educators who believe that low parent involvement is the main cause of the achievement gap, they probably will not be open to giving it a chance. If I suggest that more right brain lesson plans will make the learning experience more inclusive, educators who cite low parent educational attainment as the cause of the achievement gap will not be open to change.
For these reasons and more, I simply cannot wait any longer for teachers to quit looking at the income of the home, the number of parents in the home, parent involvement, parent educational attainment, or school funding. So at the risk of making another compromise, I am offering an additional 100+ educational strategies in this book to help children of color.
The 5 Types of Educators
Unfortunately, the strategies presented in this book will barely register with many educators. As I've mentioned in my previous books, there are five types of educators: Custodians, Referral Agents, Instructors, Teachers, and Coaches.
Custodians are basically the babysitters of the group. As long as students don't cause too much trouble, that's fine with them. Custodians have the mindset, "I have mine, and you have yours to get. I have one year, four months, three weeks, two days, and then I'm going to retire."
Referral Agents aren't much better. Research shows that 20 percent of the teachers are making 80 percent of the suspensions and referrals to special education.
Instructors believe that they teach subjects, not children. Research shows that from the fourth grade on, Black and Latino scores decline. Interestingly, from the fourth grade on, the number of Instructors increases.
My strategies are more effective with Teachers and Coaches who not only understand subject matter, but they honor the congruence between pedagogy and students' various learning styles. You do not teach the way you want to teach. You teach the way your children learn. If you have a large percentage of right brain learners in your classroom, you don't give them left brain lesson plans, i.e., ditto sheets and textbooks. Moreover, Coaches know that you cannot teach a child you have not bonded with. Children learn best when their relationship with Teacher is strong and positive.
In my consulting practice, I've been blessed to observe hundreds of Master Teachers. The goal of 100+ and 200+ is to replicate the successes of Master Teachers in classrooms across the country. Master Teachers have a gift, and many see teaching as a ministry. They arrive at 7:00 in the morning, and they leave at 5:00 in the evening. They take work home with them. They even take children home with them. It's a way of life.
While I commend these teachers, I'm aware that not every teacher is going to devote as much time and energy to the cause, nor should we expect that of every teacher. Teachers are people, too. They have spouses, children, and family responsibilities. They have second jobs, other activities, and other vocations. So it's unrealistic and unfair for us to expect that every teacher is going to give 60 to 80 hours a week to teach Black and Latino children. However, that does not mean they are any less effective.
I've observed that Master Teachers tend to avoid the teachers' lounge. In low achieving schools, the most negative room is not the classroom. It's the teachers' lounge. Making derogatory statements about your colleagues, students, and their parents is not acceptable in the teachers' lounge or anywhere else. Teachers will sometimes tell me that they do not make derogatory statements about Black and Latino children, so they are not part of the problem. But if you do not refute negative comments made in your presence, then you have just become part of the problem. Unless your teachers' lounge is an information center with books, magazines, articles, research, and other documents that will help you improve the performance of Black and Latino children, then avoid this room.
Just as teachers talk about students in the lounge, the students talk about you on the playground. You have a reputation, and you need to know what students think about you. Students are very quick to share with each other what they can and cannot get away with in your class. For example, they may call a teacher "hard" or "nice." "Hard" teachers tend to have high expectations of their students. If you listen closely, they'll talk about this teacher with a little fear and a lot of respect. A "nice" teacher is the last thing you want to be. Curiously, students will sometimes say, "Teacher is nice. He doesn't care what we do." Children are not yet wise enough to know that teachers who don't care are not nice. Students say "nice" teachers give away free A's. This is an easy class, which means the teacher has low expectations of the students. Learn the code of the playground, and you'll learn a lot. Principals, if you want to know what your students think of their teachers, listen and learn.
I want you to think about this next statement very carefully: If you have never been on fire regarding the education of your children, it will be impossible for you to burn out. That's prophetic. In my travels, I encourage Master Teachers to relieve stress in healthy, positive ways so that they won't burn out. It has always puzzled me how so many of our best teachers (the Teachers and Coaches) burn out, but seldom will you find a Custodian, Referral Agent, or Instructor burning out. They reason they don't burn out is because they have never been on fire.
I know it hurts Master Teachers to pass on their students to Custodians, Referral Agents, and Instructors. After having worked so hard to raise your children's test scores, I know it disappoints you to have to give them to a teacher who may not be qualified to continue the progress you've made with your students. Try to convince your principal to loop your class from one grade to another. Work with your principal to see if you can loop your children for several years.
More Than A Teacher
Yes, you're more than just a teacher. The role of public school teachers has evolved over the years because the need is so great in our communities. I'd like to add to your job description, but trust me, these functions will make your job much easier.
Motivation. Most teachers in college education departments were trained to work with the Leave It To Beaver children and the Father Knows Best children. These children come to school already motivated. They've bought into the middle-class value of long-term gratification. But many Black and Latino children, especially those from low-income homes where the father is not present, need motivation. Teachers today must go the extra mile to motivate their students. This can be as simple as a kind, positive word every day. It's tremendously difficult to educate an unmotivated child for 180 days. But when a student is motivated, learning and teaching become a joy.
Home Training. In my book for children, A Culture of Respect, I discuss the need for home training. Many of our children lack the basic components of home training. They often disrupt the class and undermine time on task. It is very difficult to teach when students do not know how to behave in the classroom. Make sure that you are armed and ready with discipline and classroom management strategies (I offer several in this book). Enforce these strategies consistently and fairly.
As in 100+, this book offers practical things teachers can do every day to help their Black and Latino students improve academic performance.
Before we begin, I'd like you to take a moment to think about your African American students. Are they suffering from Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder? How do they feel about Africa? Do they feel Tarzan is the king of Africa? Do they see Africa as the Dark Continent?
How do they feel about dark skin, short curly hair, thick lips, and a broad nose?
Do your children use the B word or the N word? Do they associate being smart with being White?
Do they believe their history began in 1620?
Do they know about the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King? He died more than 40 years ago, but many of our youth have no real appreciation or understanding of what he stood for. It will take an extra effort on your part to make Dr. King — and all African American historical figures — real.
Do your students believe they're better in sports than science? Do they believe they're better in music than math? Do they believe they're better in rap than reading? If so, your children are suffering from Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder. If you are an African American teacher and believe these things, then you too are suffering from this disorder. If you're White and believe these things, then you're suffering from racism and White supremacy. These disorders must be addressed before you can implement the strategies contained in this book.
We've all heard the phrase, "All children can learn." I want to raise the ante on this idea. Rather than saying "All children can learn," I want you to believe that your children will learn. There is a tremendous difference in using "can learn" and "will learn." I believe in your classroom. Your children will learn!
Lastly, I'd like to offer the following words of wisdom:
You can't teach what you don't know.
You can't nurture what you don't love.
You can't respect what you don't understand.
Now we'll move into the heart of 200+ Educational Strategies to Teach Children of Color.CHAPTER 2
The first day of school is the most important day of the school year. This day will determine who's in charge of your class and how your students will relate to you. Introduce yourself. Let students know you're a human being, but balance that with a no nonsense approach to academics. Let them know that you're expecting great work from them and that you'll be working hard to help them succeed. Explain why the class is so important. In fact, explain why education is so important. With our children, the value of education can never be overstated. Day one lays the foundation for the entire school year, so use it to establish a positive tone.
How soon can you remember all the names of your students? How soon can you pronounce their names correctly? Master Teachers learn all names and pronunciations within the first two days of school. In contrast, it takes some teachers four to five months to learn their students' names, and even then they're still having difficulties with the names. There's nothing more demoralizing to a child than to be an unknown entity in the classroom, and that occurs when the teacher cannot remember his or her name. We all love the sound of our own name, and when an authority figure has taken the time to learn it, this makes us feel important. If you're worried about remembering the correct pronunciation, write the name phonetically and practice saying it out loud on your own time. If you don't learn the child's name, he will talk about you on the playground, and he won't respect you in class. This preparation at the beginning of the school year will establish a positive relationship between you and your students.
Compile a list of all of your students' birthdays. Birthdays are special to children. It's the one day of the year that belongs solely to them. Acknowledge each child's birthday on that particular day. You don't have to give a gift, but you can have the class sing a song or play a game — any creative activity that honors the child in a fun way. Let's make each child important, and birthdays are a great, personal way to do that.CHAPTER 3
Let's take advantage of the Obama Effect. When Barack Obama became the nation's 44 president, our children learned that they could do anything they put their minds to do. Many of our children are now saying that they want to be president of the United States, but it is not enough to say they want to be Barack Obama. They need to understand what this man went through to get to where he is today. Explain his educational journey to your students:
The story of Barack Obama is highly motivating, and teachers can use the Obama Effect to inspire their children to do their homework, study for tests, improve their grades, and participate in class. And don't forget to put a picture of Barack Obama in a place of honor in your classroom.
The Obama Effect includes First Lady Michelle Obama. Tell your students that before becoming First Lady or even Mrs. Obama, Michelle was an attorney at a major law firm in Chicago. Growing up, she was an outstanding student. She recently said, "I remember there were kids around my [Chicago] neighborhood who would say, 'Ooh, you talk funny. You talk like a white girl.' I heard that growing up my whole life. I was like, 'I don't even know what that means but I am still getting my A."' That quote alone should dispel our children's belief that being smart means acting White.
The foundation for Mrs. Obama's many accomplishments was laid with high academic achievement. Explain her educational journey to your students:
Whitney Young High graduated with school honors
Princeton University magna cum laude
Harvard University magna cum laude
Michelle Obama left the law firm for a career in public service because she believes strongly in giving back to the community. Use this fact to motivate your students to go above and beyond their normal school work. Encourage them to raise money for worthy causes, join a scouting group, tutor their peers, help around the house, and volunteer at a local community center or church. Use the Obama Effect to motivate your students!
Excerpted from 200 Plus Educational Strategies to Teach Children of Color by Jawanza Kunjufu. Copyright © 2009 Jawanza Kunjufu. Excerpted by permission of African American Images.
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