Teaching While Black: A New Voice on Race and Education in New York City

Teaching While Black: A New Voice on Race and Education in New York City

Teaching While Black: A New Voice on Race and Education in New York City

Teaching While Black: A New Voice on Race and Education in New York City


Teaching should never be color-blind. In a world where many believe the best approach toward eradicating racism is to feign ignorance of our palpable physical differences, a few have led the movement toward convincing fellow educators not only to consider race but to use it as the very basis of their teaching. This is what education activist and writer Pamela Lewis has set upon to do in her compelling book, Teaching While Black: A New Voice on Race and Education in New York City. As the title suggests, embracing blackness in the classroom can be threatening to many and thus challenging to carry out in the present school system.

Unapologetic and gritty, Teaching While Black offers an insightful, honest portrayal of Lewis's turbulent eleven-year relationship within the New York City public school system and her fight to survive in a profession that has undervalued her worth and her understanding of how children of color learn best. Tracing her educational journey with its roots in the North Bronx, Lewis paints a vivid, intimate picture of her battle to be heard in a system struggling to unlock the minds of the children it serves, while stifling the voices of teachers of color who hold the key. The reader gains full access to a perspective that has been virtually ignored since the No Child Left Behind Act, through which questions surrounding increased resignation rates by teachers of color and failing test scores can be answered.

Teaching While Black is both a deeply personal narrative of a black woman's real-life experiences and a clarion call for culturally responsive teaching. Lewis fearlessly addresses the reality of toxic school culture head-on and gives readers an inside look at the inert bureaucracy, heavy-handed administrators, and ineffective approach to pedagogy that prevent inner-city kids from learning. At the heart of Lewis's moving narrative is her passion. Each chapter delves deeper into the author's conscious uncoupling from the current trends in public education that diminish proven remedies for academic underachievement, as observed from her own experiences as a teacher of students of color.

Teaching While Black summons everyone to re-examine what good teaching looks like. Through a powerful vision, together with practical ideas and strategies for teachers navigating very difficult waters, Lewis delivers hope for the future of teaching and learning in inner-city schools.


When we revolt it’s not for a particular
culture. We revolt simply because, for many
reasons, we can no longer breathe.

Frantz Fanon

Speaking up never came easily to me; one of my earliest memories Sproves as much. When I was four or five, I recall, I was awakened from a very peaceful slumber by my bickering parents. I don’t remember exactly what they were fighting about, but I had seen them argue so often that I used to resort to putting my hands over my mother’s mouth whenever she started to say anything to my father.

“Shhhh,” I’d insist, shaking my head and trying to convince her that silence was best. She could have been ready to do something as innocent as ask for a glass of water, but I always assumed the worst.

My parents in turn decided to save their arguments for after my bedtime. But this particular night the fighting had escalated beyond their desire not to be overheard.

I lay there not knowing what to do. Should I say something? Cry? the intensity in their voices made me wonder if anything I did would make a difference. If my crying did make them stop, I’d be embarrassed, because then they’d realize that I’d been hurt by their decision to fight in front of me. I was also aware of how my crying would make my parents feel; they’d feel guilty, like unfit parents, and I didn’t want them to feel that. I also felt slight contempt that I had to alert them to my presence at all. Didn’t they realize that their fighting might wake me up? Didn’t they care enough about my feelings to not fight at all? Feeling both worthless and powerless, I decided to fake sleep.

I took all the necessary precautions. I made sure not to move a muscle except for taking deep breaths that suggested deep sleep. I kept my eyes . . .

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