>Reflection on Haberman’s "The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching"

>I confess that our readings for graduate school are usually less than enthralling, but by the time I reached the line, “People who have been brutalized are usually not rich sources of compassion,” I was close to tears. Haberman’s characterization of urban teaching resonated deeply with my own student teaching experience and it was refreshing, though harrowing, to see my frustrations given voice.

The list of core urban teacher functions that consists largely of paper-shuffling and management is part of the misconception that teaching is an easy profession. I have come to realize, however, that teaching is not just something to do; rather, it is an important part of who I am. That distinction is subtle but essential for my psychological well-being, as it is easy for me to wrap my identity into what and how well I do, which at times leaves me overly fearful and vulnerable to manipulation by students or administration. But if I can remember that I am a sensitive, responsive, and intensive teacher even if I may not do all the things such a teacher “should” every day, I think that will relieve some of the pressure I feel to perform.

Four Syllogisms of Urban Teaching

  • Students and teachers are engaged in different activities (learning and teaching, respectively).  Upshot: Teachers do not learn from their students and students cannot teach themselves or each other.
  • Teachers are in charge of developing appropriate behavior in their students.  Upshot: Teacher competence is measured by the degree of control they have over their students.
  • Ranking of some sort is inevitable because of external circumstances.  Upshot: Some kids finish last.
  • Basic skills must be forced upon students uninterested in acquiring them. Upshot: Schools and teachers exist to force kids to learn.

I definitely bought into this system of thought and practice at my student teaching placement, and I think that’s what I had so much difficulty with that quarter.  What struck me while I was reading was that this pedagogy of poverty is not limited to low-achieving urban schools. At my suburban placement the previous quarter, I was the “inexperienced teacher… who [sought] to involve students in genuine learning activities and…met…apathy or bedlam,” and seeing the students’ complacent but “positive” response to the pedagogy of poverty, despite having all manner of material and social resources, nearly broke me. It has taken me several months to renew my hope, and reading Haberman’s list of core teacher acts was encouraging.

Good teaching occurs when students are…

  • “involved with issues they regard as vital concerns,” which means that the classroom must expand and invite students’ external lives inside
  • “involved with explanations of human differences,” and to that I would add, in order to appreciate and protect their common humanity
  • “being helped to see major concepts, big ideas, and general principles” in various forms of knowledge, such as entertainment, art, and cultural discourse
  • “involved in planning what they will be doing” and making informed choices
  • “applying ideals such as fairness, equity, or justice to their world” in order to build character
  • “actively involved” as an advisors, allies, activists, advocates…which is what I strive to be as a teacher 
  • “directly involved in a real-life experience” with people, places, and the “stuff of life”
  • “actively involved in heterogeneous groups” to learn not just cognitive but social skills from each other
  • “asked to think about an idea in a way that questions…relates…or applies” what they know
  • “involved in redoing, polishing, or perfecting work” in order to learn that learning–and life–is a process, not a product
  • involved with “the technology of information access”
  • “involved in reflecting on their own lives”–how they came to think, feel, and believe the way they do

I forwarded the article to my principal and department chair next year, since I agree that “the whole school faculty and school community—not the individual teacher—must be the unit of change” (p. 4). In my first year teaching, I will need to practice patience with the process of education reform as well as that of education, and do my part believing that it can make a difference.


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