It’s a familiar trope, made popular in movies and best-selling memoirs: the idealistic, often white, occasionally affluent, burned-out young teacher who heroically struggles to educate “unteachable” black or Latino students in a failing urban public school.
So he’s turned his frustration into a book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too, on what the idealists turned burnouts have gotten wrong—and why.
“I always say the first step is an acknowledgment or a recognition of the fact that you are in the classroom as an expert in content—math, science, reading—but you lack the expertise in so many domains,” said Emdin, who is now an associate professor in the department of mathematics, science, and technology at Teachers College, Columbia University.
This lack of expertise usually includes a misunderstanding of minority cultures, little knowledge about the roots of poverty or educational racism, and only a casual interest in exactly where their “rowdy” students are coming from, he said.
“You’re a 24-year-old or a 35-year-old, [yet] you are part of a history that’s so much bigger than you,” Emdin said. “Unless you recognize that first, you will never be effective.”
Emdin’s book tackles the intersection of race and public education at a critical time: 2015 marked the first year that minority children outnumbered non-Hispanic whites in U.S. schools—and the first year that more than half of public school students qualified for free and reduced lunches.