Teachers and Teaching

Ken Futernick: Teacher Stories about Life Today

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About a decade ago, when policy elites were bashing teachers on a regular basis, Ken Futernick was writing about the challenges that teachers face every day, including lack of support by administrators and poor working conditions. Recently, he has been creating podcasts in which teachers explain how they teach about important issues of the day, like teaching about racism and the Black Lives Matter movement, teaching during the pandemic, and teaching history in a way that is relevant to all students. He shared these three podcasts with me.


Brown University Psychology Professor Malik Boykin Teaches about Prejudice and Invites us to Dance for FreedomMalik Boykin (aka Malik Starx) is an accomplished musician and a professor of psychology at Brown University where he teaches a course on stigma and prejudice. Boykin shares two transformational teacher stories–the first from second grade when he was sent to the principal’s office for raising questions about Christopher Columbus. The second is about Dr. Jaia John, his social psychology professor at Howard University who carved out time at the start each class for students to share a poem, a personal story, or even a musical performance that had some relation to the course content. 

Inspired by Dr. John, Boykin became a social psychologist and, like John, encourages his students to share something personal at the start of his classes. One of his students, Gabrielle Tanksley, describes what it’s like to be one of Boykin’s students, and she reads an extraordinary poem she shared recently in class. Starx wrote and performed “Dancing for Freedom,” the soundtrack played in this Teacher Story episode. At the end, he reflects on the inspiration for the song.

The Power of Stories and Early RelationshipsWhen 4th grade teacher Miriam Marecek turned down the lights and lit the reading candle, magic happened. Pediatrician and journalist Perri Klass describes what it was like being one of Ms. Marecek’s students and the impact it’s had on her life and professional career. Now, as national medical director for Reach Out and Read, Dr. Klass, promotes reading aloud together starting at birth.

In this episode she says, “If children grow up in literacy, rich environments, if there’s a lot of back and forth…they will, by the time they come to school, understand how books work. They will understand how print works. They will understand all kinds of things about stories and sequence that will help tremendously with learning to read. This is about growing up, enjoying the back and forth around early literacy in books with the other people in your family.” 

Three Educators Reflect on How to Teach about the Insurrection Like most Americans, these three veteran teachers were horrified as they learned about the insurrection at the nation’s Capitol on January 6th, 2021. But each of them had to decide how to address this highly controversial topic with their students. What’s the proper role for a teacher with an event like this? What if some students’ parents or the students themselves supported the insurrection? Is there any way to talk about this and other controversial topics with very young students? Listen in as each teacher reflects on these and several other challenging questions. 

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