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You Can't Teach Us if You Don't Know Us and Care About Us

Becoming an Ubuntu, Responsive and Responsible Urban Teacher


Omiunota Nelly Ukpokodu

This book addresses the needs of diverse urban students for a new kind of teacher, classroom learning context, curriculum, and pedagogy in order to effectively learn, perform, and achieve. Drawing on the African concept of Ubuntu as a fundamental framework for enacting a humanizing pedagogy, the text invites teachers, students, and families to enter into an interdependent and interconnected relationship for education. This book is uniquely transformative as it elevates the centrality of student humanity and models the integration of emergent theories and practices, utilizing real-life stories to enlighten and illuminate. Emphasis is placed on Ubuntu pedagogy as a model to emulate, anchored on five ethical dimensions: humanism and Ubuntu competence, relationship and learning community, humanism in the curriculum, pedagogical and instructional excellence, and collaboration and partnership. Particularly valuable for teachers learning to cultivate the spirit of Ubuntu that undergirds their ability to be humane, responsive, socially- just, efficacious, and resilient, this book is a cutting-edge resource for effectively addressing the persistent academic achievement of diverse urban students.

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Christine Sleeter

Ubuntu. A word, as Omiunota Ukpokodu teaches us, that centers the work of urban teachers in the common humanity we share with our students, expressed through relationships we build with them. As she explains in this excellent book, Ukpokodu grew up in Nigeria. It was there that she first experienced powerful and loving teaching; students excelled academically despite the paucity of resources. Ubuntu grounds how the best teachers approach the rest of their work—the curriculum they teach, the instructional strategies they choose, their approach to discipline, how they assess learning, how they relate to students’ families. Urban educators in the U.S. can benefit greatly from what this book teaches, because its central concept—Ubuntu—puts urban teachers’ work into a balanced and holistic framework that is supported by research.

As a novice urban teacher decades ago, I recall grasping intuitively the importance of relationships, but I lacked the pedagogical guidance this book offers. My first experience with urban teaching took place in a working-class, racially diverse high school in Seattle. Having grown up in a small rural town, I was quite unprepared for urban schools, but open to learning. I probably experienced some degree of cultural shock, but do not remember. What I remember vividly was my desire to know the students, and their interest in ← xiii | xiv → being known. Over the eight months I spent in that school, my students and I engaged in many conversations, particularly outside the classroom....

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