Academic journal article English Journal

Revolutionizing the English Classroom through Consciousness, Justice, and Self-Awareness

Academic journal article English Journal

Revolutionizing the English Classroom through Consciousness, Justice, and Self-Awareness

Article excerpt

Dr. Christopher Emdin once described a classroom setting where students were lulled to sleep by the monotony of a lesson. Although the teacher was fully engaged in a rhythmic performance of teaching, "when [Emdin] looked at the faces across the room, everybody was asleep in different variations of what sleep should look like . . . Head on hand, nodding all the way back, just asleep." As if by fate, a sudden rumbling noise somehow seemed to bring the children to life. "It was the bass line of a rap song." Emdin details the life and emotion that filled the room as the kids awoke in excitement-the bass "permeating" the space, the lyrics all too familiar. Yet as the music moved down the street and away from the classroom, Emdin also describes the teacher, who still engaged in his performance, missed the entire moment of something that had "captured [the students'] interest in a way that all his dancing and pirouettes could not do."

As a high school teacher, it is this exact experience that I dread-not the temporary moment of excitement, but the other 45 minutes of class where students are disconnected, disengaged, and disinterested in learning. The trembling anxieties of walking into a classroom full of students whose eyes lack passion and whose ears are listening keenly for the lunch bell, rather than the sound of my voice, creates an unnerving frustration. I remember my first year of teaching. I was blessed with the challenge of working in a Title I Priority school. I remember vividly, the hallways were filled with energetic and expressive teenagers-laughing, dancing, and joking. I stood in my sixth-period class yelling at the top of my lungs for students to pay attention. I often gave the "education is important" speech-convincing students that they needed to listen and learn to become assets to society. I was perpetuating "literacy myth" conceptions that had for generations been passed down. "What did it mean to, as our elders told us, 'grow up and be somebody'? And what precisely did this have to do with an education rendered as rote discipline?" (Coates 25).

Before I ever stepped foot into a classroom, I knew exactly what I wanted to teach and how I wanted to teach it. I had adopted the teachings of Emdin. My teaching pedagogy focused on infus - ing hip-hop culture and multimodal approaches to teaching and learning. Quickly, though, I learned that under micromanaged supervision teachers were restricted from the "close your door and teach" policy. I was afraid to stray away from the standards, reject the canonized texts, and even incorporate what I knew my students could relate to. I took the traditional route. I followed archived and archaic lesson plans until they equally bored me and my students. I had so hopelessly reached the point where I began telling students I was obligated to teach what was written for me in the plans. They met me with much resistance and frustration. I had to make a conscious and radical decision to stand up for what and who I believed in-my students. TaNehisi Coates mentions in his Between the World and Me, "black people love their children with a kind of obsession. [They] are all we have, and [they] come to us endangered" (82).

These students-only a handful of those who weren't African American-were yearning for ur curriculum, our rituals and routines, and our purpose in the classroom needed to be rooted in something deeper than what had already been laid out for us. We needed a spiritual, culturally relevant, and intellectual connection to the texts being used in class. My responsibility, as a vessel of mentorship and inspiration, was to provide opportunities for students to see themselves reflected in texts and the lessons. My goal was to stimulate inquiry about social injustice, spark interest in African American history, and create a platform for students to share their own experiences, encourage and motivate each other, and engage in discussion about the new leaders of today. …

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