Between pandemic life and a (perhaps consequent) twelve-second attention span, I haven’t been on Twitter much these days. But two threads last month did catch my attention.
1. This tweet from Marian Dingle (@DingleTeach) directed me to Dr. Robert Berry’s (@robertqberry) talk entitled “Do Mathematical Practices Put Black Learners At Risk?” which continued a “conversation,” if I could be so bold as to call it that, with Lauren Baucom’s (@LBmathemagician) GMD post from February. They raise powerful examples of how mathematical practices can be used to analyze antiBlack racism but also, how mathematical practices can perpetuate antiBlack racism.
It reminded me of this experiment—a math education equivalent to the classic job applicant resumé studies—where teacher educators gave pre-service teachers a vignette describing a student who is “above grade level” but “disruptive;” when the student was identified as an African American boy, teachers were more likely to suggest that he be removed from the classroom, that he might have a learning disability, that he might need a positive role model, compared to when the student was identified as an African American girl, a White boy, or a White girl. (Aside: in the same book that published that study, Dan Battey (@DanBattey) and Luis Leyva (@LuisLeyvaEdu) have a chapter questioning whether teachers’ implicit racial attitudes might account for students’ mathematics learning as much as, or perhaps even more than, their mathematics instruction).
But more importantly, the question that Dr. Berry’s talk has lodged in my brain is: what else do we take for granted as being “good” in mathematics education—the way we (as teachers, as researchers, as a field) often assume that the Standards for Mathematical Practice can support student learning and also be helpful for teachers in making deliberate instructional choices—that can have consequences that reinforce racism or other systems of oppression?
2. Christina Torres (@biblio_phile) provides a beautiful example of how to respond to someone who is offended by the idea of “politicizing” the classroom (Dan Meyer’s (@ddmeyer) latest blog post offers yet another entry in the lengthy “here’s why all teaching is political” column). I hope that someday I can be as gracious yet unwavering as she is.
Finally, if you’re experiencing the October doldrums, I’ve recently been thinking with some teachers about pedagogical responsibility and what matters most to them (as mathematics teachers) in this incredibly trying time. I’ve heard so many amazing teachers struggle with feeling like this year, for all the 2020 reasons, they’re not being the teachers they used to be or are capable of being, and worrying about burnout. First, if you’re feeling this way, you are enough, even though I don’t know how much doubt/frustration an anonymous person on the internet can really alleviate. But second, some of the teachers I’ve worked with have found it meaningful to name their feelings of burnout as actually being demoralization instead, using Dr. Doris Santoro’s (@DorisASantoro) study of veteran teachers (the introduction to her book is available for free here): burnout is an individual problem of individual teachers feeling overwhelmed and like they don’t have the capacity to continue teaching. Demoralization, however, is caused by systems, policies, and constraints that make it impossible for teachers to live up to their values at work. In this blog post, Dr. Santoro points out that demoralization is not a problem that can be solved by self-care, but offers some strategies that teachers in her study have used for re-moralization instead. That said, self-care matters too, so I hope you can find some moments this week for what matters to you, both personally and professionally.
Written by Grace Chen (@graceachen)