“All the research shows the same thing: the bottom line is that good teaching is about relationships. The best teachers come in to their classrooms every day ready to be vulnerable to their students. Therefore, to be a great teacher is to deny your human instinct to protect yourself.”
These words from Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Professor of Raza Studies and Educational Administration at San Francicso State University, during his standing-room only talk at the City College of San Francisco on February 25. The title of the talk—“The Gangsta, Wanksta, Rida Paradigm: Urban Youth Culture and Learning”—is a reference to common elements he found in the best teachers in his study of urban schools. The few great teachers are “ridas” in that they “ride” with the community. On the other side are the handful of “gangsta” teachers that don’t like the students they work with and act as barriers to, rather than enablers of, those students. In the middle and on the fence are the “wankstas” who mean well and do a lot of talking about what they are going to do for students, but rarely, if ever, follow through.
Duncan-Andrade sought to normalize the teachers he studied who produced student success by every measure, including good grades, high test scores, increased self-confidence, and sustained engagement with school and learning. “Being successful with our students is not heroic, not exceptional. We make it heroic to excuse ourselves” when we are not successful. According to Duncan-Andrade, great teachers have or create the following five qualities:
- Critically Conscious Purpose — great teachers are teachers because they want their students to change the world
- Duty — great teachers understand that it is a privilege to teach, that they serve the students and their communities, and that the students are more important than the job
- Preparation — great teachers meticulously prepared for class and take a great deal of ownership for their work and for the success of it in the classroom
- Socratic Sensibility — great teachers know that they don’t know, are self-critical without doubting their ability to succeed
- Trust — great teachers engender the trust of their students, choose solidarity over empathy, and know that loving their students means holding them to high expectations
Duncan-Andrade is author of The Art of Critical Pedagogy: Possibilities for Moving from Theory to Practice in Urban Schools. He has lectured around the world about developing classroom practices and school cultures that foster self-confidence, esteem, and academic success among all students. His research interests and publications span the areas of urban schooling and curriculum change, urban teacher development and retention, critical pedagogy, and cultural and ethnic studies.