A Conversation with South Fulton Author Dr. Andrea Lewis 2

Two New Books from the Professor Take on Heavy Issues in Both Academic and Elementary Offerings

I ended my academic book with the following quote by my former professor and mentor, Dr. Asa G. Hilliard III, which sums up both my first year as a teacher and my research participants’ realities during their novice years: “I have never encountered any children in any group who are not geniuses. There is no mystery on how to teach them. The first thing you do is treat them like human beings and the second thing you do is love them.”

Local education author and South Fulton resident Dr. Andrea Lewis, Assistant Professor and Chair of the Education Department at Spelman College, shares insight about her work and recent publications.

Q: Andrea, I learned that you recently authored two 
books. Please tell us about your new publications.

A: Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share my books with our community. I recently authored one book and finally had the other published. Preservice Teachers, Social Class, and Race in Urban Schools: Experiences and Strategies for Teacher Preparation, published by Palgrave Macmillan, is an academic book based on my professional journey as a new teacher in Atlanta Public Schools, as well as an analysis of a research study. The study examined the perceptions of Black middle and upper class preservice teachers as they relate to teaching and learning in high poverty urban schools. There is extensive literature on White preservice teachers who lack experience with students in diverse communities, but limited studies pertain to Black middle and upper class preservice teachers who may lack experience with students in high poverty urban schools. While they most likely share the same skin color, their cultural capital, or economic realities, may not be the same. I wanted to research how and if these differences impacted the classroom.

My second publication, Valerie’s New Friends (Rathsi Publishing), is a children’s book based on my experiences growing up in a predominantly White community. I actually wrote the book in eighth grade for a language arts assignment! Two years ago, I located my original book and enhanced it for publication. Although the story highlights experiences I encountered as a child, the concept is still relevant, especially for children who attend school in predominantly White settings. The story is about racial acceptance, but the message transcends various types of diversity found in 21st century schools. A teaching guide is included for use in the classroom.

Q: For our readers who may not be familiar with 
the terminology, what is a preservice teacher? 

A: A preservice teacher is someone studying to become a teacher, usually in a traditional teacher education program.

Q: In your children’s book, there is an account of 
neighborhood children throwing sticks and stones 
at Valerie. Did this happen to you?

A: Yes, most definitely. I think I was in first grade. While I had been called names prior to this event, the sticks and stones incident was probably the defining moment of me realizing I was Black and all that it entailed. In the 1970s, Dr. William Cross Jr., a noted psychologist, developed the Nigrescence Theory, or the process of becoming Black. This was my encounter moment. No matter how much our parents and family immerse us in our race and culture, most everyone has a defining encounter moment of realizing who they are. For people of color, this moment occurs early in life.

Q: Both books sound intriguing. 
What inspired you to write each? 

A: Preservice Teachers, Social Class, and Race in Urban Schools: Experiences and Strategies for Teacher Preparation is an extension of my doctoral research. I included the original study, as well as a follow up of four of the research participants into their first year of teaching. I wanted to determine if their perceptions as college students would be the same or change as they progressed through their first year. Their level of confidence in connecting with and reaching their students and parents was not only evident, but their passion for urban education was undeniably present.

Since children are my heart and I started as a first-grade teacher, I wanted to write a book that teachers could use in the classroom to discuss issues around diversity and difference. Although I teach college students now, my heart remains with ensuring children have a strong and quality early childhood education. It gives me great joy knowing that my current students are impacting the lives of children across the country. When my college students become teachers, it’s a full circle moment from my days in the elementary school classroom. I love to visit their classrooms to see them in action. My heart bursts with pride!

Q: Your love of education and your students is 
apparent. Is there a link between the research 
participants in your academic book and yourself? 

A: Yes, I initially started researching Black middle and upper class preservice teachers because I saw my younger self in some of my undergraduate students. I often say that I was raised in New Jersey, but grew up in Harris Homes. I am from a sheltered predominately White community in Southern New Jersey, but grew up quickly when I started teaching at Dean Rusk Elementary School, located in the Harris Homes housing projects in the West End community of Atlanta. I was exposed to real life, real quick! Those experiences and memories toughened me up and made me realize God’s plan for my future.