Lessons From An Urban Classroom

Also File Under: Books I wish I could buy for every teacher

Spectacular Things Happen Along the Way: Lessons from an Urban Classroom
By: Professor Brian D. Schultz 

“What happens when a teacher resists the pressures of ”teaching to the test” and creates a curriculum based on student needs, wants, and desires? Brian Schultz did just that when he challenged his students from a housing project in Chicago to name a problem in their community that they wanted to solve. When the students unanimously focus on replacing their dilapidated school building, an unforgettable journey is put into motion. As his students examine the conditions of their blighted school and research the deeper causes of decay, they set off on a mission of remedy and repair. It is finally their own questions and activities that power their profound self-transformations. This moving story is a tribute to what determined teachers are able to achieve in the current stifling environment of high-stakes testing and standardization. Anyone who has faith in creativity, commitment, and the deep potential of inner-city children and youth will want to read this book.”

For my Intro to Education class, we were required to read this book. When we had to tell our professor how we felt about the book, I blurted, “It made me excited for life.” I wrote and highlighted in it–I do not EVER write in my books (I find them sacred and should never be damaged unless I find abolutely necessary).

Anyway, this is along the lines of what I wrote in my notes for this book:

While reading this book, I became infuriated. I wanted to storm up to government officials and ask them what the !@#$ is wrong with you? I wanted to change my major to something where I could be directly involved with education policies. I couldn’t believe that FIFTH graders found it hard to write because of their mittens. Why are they wearing mittens? Because their school can’t afford heat. And the hole in the glass window from a bullet couldn’t be any help either. And you know that awful feeling when you really have to go to the bathroom? How you almost can’t function or think of anything else except finding a bathroom? Imagine trying to perform well in school with that feeling all day. Their toilets were always clogged. Fifth graders being deprived of a clean bathroom? You know as well as I do that education is the most reliable way for upward mobility and survival. So if you don’t give these children a QUALITY education, might as well be saying, “We don’t want you to succeed. We want you to be poor. But, you know what, because it would be illegal if we didn’t, we’ll still give you a school, or whatever this is. What was that? You want a cafeteria? A gym? Are you out of your mind? That might increase your ability to surpass us, you may become elite and wealthy, and that just won’t do.  How about you just use the hallways as a cafeteria. A gym? Walk across the street if you want a gym that bad!”

Oh dear politicians, how can you go to sleep at night knowing that under law this kind of suffering is considered legal?

Yet, after I calmed down and continued through the book, I realized, I don’t need to change my major. I don’t need to give up being what I truly want to be to make change. The change has and can be done right in the classroom. Schultz implicated teaching his lessons so well intertwined with bringing public’s eye to their suffering that at one point the student’s asked, “When are we going to do work?” Schultz reflected on this question and wrote,

“due to the manner which American schools condition students, he did not feel he was really completing schoolwork…(pg 61)”

*CUE THE GOOSEBUMPS* What did he do? He implicated writing and reading lessons in having the students write letters to government offices and other public figures. He implicated math by having his students conduct surveys on what students wanted the most change on and make pie charts. His students had skills that were not expected capable at their grade level (I can’t think of the exact skill off the top of my head). He taught them how to be active and involved members of their own community. He allowed students to realize what they were capable of by applying tasks that really meant something to them. It had value.

Ultimately, he made students realize they were much more capable than they could have ever imagined. Students told Schultz they didn’t think anyone wanted to help them because they are “black and poor.” But Schultz helped the students prove themselves otherwise. He got public’s attention AND taught his students valuable lessons. Even though they did not reach their ultimate goal of getting a new school built, the lessons along the way cannot be overlooked. On the surface it looked like they failed, students felt like they failed, but Schultz reminded them of all they did accomplish. And the impact of having a teacher show you what you are capable of and the confidence to believe one can make a difference is not a failure in my book.

Now of course I just touched up on mostly the positive aspects of the book, but do not think this was a smooth ride. He wrote about his struggles of teaching in an urban and unmotivated environment. It was a fantastic and inspiring read, and I am so happy the education department requires this book. Once again, I highly recommend this read. My response and quick summary comes no where close to the actual book.

Click here is a free excerpt

Curious for more? (Of course you are!)

Visit their website made just for this project which has more pictures and a more detailed description of their project. Project Citizen: Byrd Academy – Room 405 

Students with teacher, Mr. Schultz, and Program Coordinator Adam Gerston from the Center for Civic Education.Photo by Lamarius

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4 thoughts on “Lessons From An Urban Classroom

  1. I love the name of your blog… isn’t that really what all teachers are? I’ll check out the book, looks very interesting.

  2. Pingback: 2012 Segregation in School Systems – NJ « Teacher Under Construction

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