Education

NCTE: Allowing for the Difficult Teaching Moments

By Elizabeth Rich — November 19, 2010 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Live from the National Council of Teachers of English’s annual convention, Orlando.

I had hoped to hear the discussion “Schooling Native Americans,” but alas the presenter was a no-show, so I wandered over to “Teacher Talk About Conflict at a Multicultural High School: The Pinnacle Classroom Discourse Study Group.”

The presenters, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas from Wayne State University in Detroit and Ameer Daniel from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Mich., discussed the importance of having a shared language among teachers and students and within each of these groups. The importance, they explained, really comes down to navigating uncomfortable moments in the classroom whether they be over the charged language in Of Mice and Men or to Kill a Mockingbird or your efforts to engage your students in reading, especially when you’re working with kids who’d really rather not pick up a book. (An example of this might be when there’s a lot of loud cross talk—do you choose to: Ignore it? Shut it down? Incorporate it into your discussion? If you chose the last one, you’re on the right track.)

Thomas, who observed Daniel’s class extensively for her language and discourse research, suggested—and this won’t be a surprise—that the learning for teachers and students is found in those difficult moments, “those fault lines.” In other words, those moments that you dread or wish would pass quickly are the very ones where you and your students can benefit, if you allow them to happen. She praised Daniel for his ability to “dance along those fault lines.”

Daniel has taught English for 12 years in urban and suburban high schools. He says by empowering his students and not shutting them down, they have become more engaged. One way he does this is by giving them the opportunity to “co-construct curriculum.” He will hand them a reading list of maybe 15 books and together they decide what they will read as a class. It isn’t total freedom—there is that list and he acknowledged that giving every student free reign over their reading was just too chaotic for him.

He gives one student a laptop and book by book, they go on the Web and read what each story is about. In one recent class, they chose Farewell to Arms. I don’t know what the other choices were, but that’s a surprising selection for high school students who aren’t big readers. (Although it’s got elements of romance and war, so there you have it.)

In terms of dealing with issues like tough language (for example, words we just don’t use anymore that surface in books), the presenters, along with a number of teachers in the audience, encouraged educators to share why those words are painful. One African-American teacher specifically raised the issue of the “n” word coming up in Of Mice and Men. She shared this personal pain with her class, rather than just blowing past it.

Right now, Daniel is reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X with his students. He said he’s made a point to ask one of his Muslim students to talk about how his observance of his religion compares to how it’s discussed in the book.

If this kind of thing makes you cringe, you’re encouraged to bring your inner strength to the table, as it were. Face your class and ask them for help. One suggestion Daniel had is to ask your students straight up, “What do you have to teach me?” In other words, try to embrace your discomfort and ask your kids to increase your understanding.

On the other hand, one African-American administrator who’s worked in several turnaround schools cautioned against cultural trespassing. In other words, don’t get so comfortable or try to fit in with your students so much that after a night of “American Idol”, you pull a Randy Jackson and start shouting out to your students, “Yo, dog!” Just a hint: It won’t get you very far.

If you’d like to reach out to the presenters, here are their email addresses:

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas
eethomas@wayne.edu

Ameer Daniel
sufficientmind@yahoo.com

Had some technical issues this morning, but expecting to hit some 21st-century learning discussions this afternoon.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP