Black Math Teachers Are Good For More Than Race Stuff
Some of us have found a way to share our stories without apologizing through the #Blackout era
Some of us have found a way to share our stories without apologizing through the #Blackout era. White educators need to be more aware of their complicity in the recent murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Abery by police. Instead of a quick "I told you so", I am choosing to engage with this new group of subscribers with a huge feeling of responsibility and awareness, while still holding firm to my identity as well as all the anchors that kept this boat stable despite the current at its port.
This moment has actually shown us how important Black educators are to this work.
There is a lot of literature that supports the importance Black educators. This includes our unique ability to recommend gifted and talented students to our emphasis on community and relationship building. Too many of us are given paths that have little to do wth willpower and more to do wth opportunity. Schools often resist our existence as school leaders. If we are accepted, we usually get the most difficult classes or, if one of our colleagues finds that a student is difficult, pushes him/her in our direction. When we are promoted, it is usually to the position of dean or assistant principal who acts as de facto dean for discipline. We are often placed in spaces with limited resources. This forces us to work in places that may re-create the trauma we experienced. We aren't allowed to worry about whether or not the school is unionized.
It's not enough to talk about "race", as we are often relegated to modern-day supervisors, something that I have even said at the US Department of Education in 2015. Since then, not much has changed.
Professionalism is a function the dominant culture. Our dominant culture is obsessed with whiteness and Black teachers are frequently asked to address issues of race. This dynamic is dangerous and pervasive. One Black teacher may have entered a school believing they were granted a teaching license in math. But soon they discover that they are being ignored by more appealing representations of the school's curriculum. Informally, I have heard of conflicting perceptions of teachers by students and administrators.
Let me clarify this. Black teachers are experts in their chosen content area and its teaching methods, and not only as delegates for the entire race.
My experience has shown me that my understanding of social justice and math have a direct connection. As I have said many times, I don’t teach math. I teach students math. My students are important to me. My relationships with them matter. When I look at the lesson plans and units in front of my eyes, I can hear voices. I can already see their faces reacting to my prompts and questions. I know when I should speak less or more, when I need to move from one side to the other, when I need to duck to be at their eye level and when I should shut up so that students can learn more.
Students may need to discuss issues such as race, justice and uprising. When students begin their education, we can forget about the lesson plan.
Yes, it is important to mention that I am a National Board Certified teacher and a Math for America Master Teachers. It is important that I attended Syracuse University for a computer science degree, and City College of New York to receive a graduate degree in mathematics education. It matters that I was unemployed for several months and worked at a Wall Street education research company at a minimum wage. It matters that I come from the same neighborhood as my students. It matters that I was the first student in my class to be thrown out by the system. This also taught me how to explain any topic at least five ways. It is important that I didn’t understand what lesson planning and developing units meant for the first two years. It is important that my first advisor said to me that he believed I would quit the profession within my first year of being a perfectionist.
My goal was to improve the lives of my students by teaching them middle school math. If they were able to understand freshman year algebra, I realized that math was as civil a subject as any other subject that would be graded. That right would be mine, and I would fulfill it.
Teaching well means teaching justice. Teachers of color, particularly Black teachers, must teach regardless of their identity. America is looking for ways to move forward in a week. It's a small, but important thing that America can do. Listen and learn from Black math instructors who have made racial justice a central part of their work.
Even though we may not explicitly mention social justice (ahem), many of our actions are visible in the streets or classrooms ready to correct our country's mistakes.