Bronwyn is a writer, editor, teacher and tutor in California, and the author of Literally Unbelievable: Stories from an East Oakland Classroom. She is a veteran of the Oakland Unified School District, where she was an elementary classroom teacher and passionate advocate for her students and their families. You can find more information about Harris and her work at

Articles by Bronwyn

Putting Feelings into Words

Emotions can be frightening for all of us, especially for children. But if students don’t have the vocabulary to express their feelings, they may turn to acting out. This fails to resolve the feelings and makes a teacher’s life much more difficult.

It’s Still Good to Talk About Race

Recently, I was in a public place with a friend when I saw a woman wearing a very creative, flamboyant outfit. Knowing that my friend would be interested, I discreetly whispered to her to look at the woman in the

For the Want of a Home

Like many of us, I sometimes overuse the word “need.” I have a tendency to say that I need the new iPhone or I need a pedicure, even though those are clearly things that I want, rather than need. My greatest lesson on distinguishing between a want and a need came with my first-grade class when I was a new teacher. Volunteers from the business community came to teach for a day through the Junior Achievement program. As a new teacher, I was overwhelmed and relieved not to be responsible for lesson plans for the day. I was nervous, however, about how an idealistic businessperson would deal with 20 extremely needy first-graders living in one of the most violent parts of Oakland, Calif.

Classroom Guest Busts Stereotypes

It’s not unusual to encounter misconceptions about Africa. People erroneously refer to “the country of Africa” or say that someone “speaks African.” Most of my third-grade students were African-American, and they not only knew very little about Africa; they held negative assumptions about anyone who is African. Worse, my students used “black African” as a slur. No one knew how that got started. In fact, part of the reason I usually say “black” instead of “African-American” is that I got used to my students saying “black.” The term “African” was not anything they wanted associated with themselves, even with “American” tacked on to the end.

Going Deeper Than Skin Color

Among my third-graders, conflicts often arose over the issue of skin color. “Your mama left you in the oven too long. You look just like a burnt cookie!” “Oh yeah, well you look like a white boy. I bet you ain’t even black.” As a young white teacher coming into a school that is about half African-American and half Latino, I knew there would be racial conflicts, but I didn’t know how they would manifest themselves. I assumed that both groups’ first concern would be the oppression and racism from white people. I was not expecting the intense criticism that I found within the African-American community of its own members.