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Teaching in an urban school has special challenges that, when met, bring special rewards.  Key themes to best practices in urban teaching include initiative and partner.  Here are some practical things urban teachers can do by themselves and with other educators, students, parents, and the community.

 

·         Stay connected to your local teacher-training university!  Urban teachers benefit from the infusion of fresh ideas from professionals who study best pedagogical practices for a living.

·         Communities-within-communities at schools can be powerful energizers for teachers and students: “Houses” at an elementary school we visited, “Academies” at one high school we visited, “Vertical Teams” at a third school we visited.  The research shows that a small school, even it it’s a school-within-a-school, can offset the problems of a large classroom.

·         Urban centers have strengths that suburban/rural environments do not have: museums, performing arts, sports, hospitals, media centers, corporate headquarters.  They are often willing to participate in the education process in a variety of ways, and teachers must take personal affirmative action to tap into these resources.

·         Parental involvement is a widespread disappointment in urban education.  It’s important to remember that this does not necessarily mean that parents are indifferent to their children’s education.  Urban teachers need to be sensitive to the possibilities that parents might be reluctant to engage schools because they feel inadequate due to language issues or their own lack of education, they may have to work multiple jobs, etc.   Teachers can try personally reaching out to parents.

·         Smile!  Urban students are more likely to need attention to basic needs.  Start by making them feel welcome and safe.  If they are not there, find out why not.

·         Get to know each student as a unique individual.  Plan on leaving time each September for this.  Ask students to write autobiographies or construct “Who I Am” collages.  Use this information to find ways to make lessons fun and relevant.

·         Demand a lot.  All students want to be held to a high expectation: it indicates that their teacher holds them in high esteem; urban students are less likely to be held to high standards elsewhere in their lives.  “Strict does not mean not fun.”

·         Organization is key and up to the teacher.  Your classroom might be an oasis of certainty in a world characterized by unexpected change.  The more detailed you can make your syllabus, the better.  Hand out lesson plan outlines.  Post rubrics for what a student needs to do to excel in your class.  Plot each student’s progress against expectations often, and discuss with the student.

·         Document goodness.  Have evidence to support the progress and excellence of individual students.

·         Don’t fight I-pod usage: allow during individual work time, as long as the rest of the class can’t hear it.

·         Some things you might want to consider making available in your classroom: paper, pens, ear plugs (for individual work times), Kleenex, headphones.

·         Emphasize school pride.  Provide your students with an academic identity. Who are they as learners? What does it mean to be a student at your school? Give your students a sense of community by making clear what it means to belong to your school (or classroom).

·         Vary the layout of your classroom. Research shows that space functions best when it has limited uses. Have a place in your classroom for large group discussions that is separate--even if only a bookcase divides it--from spaces for small group inquiry. Some students will learn better if they are not always exposed to the same classroom design.

·         Get away from your desk! Engage your students by walking around the room and being directly involved in their learning processes. Don't just assign work and passively wait for it to be turned in.

 

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