African American Mathematics Teachers as Agents in Their African American Students’ Mathematics Identity Formation
by Lawrence M. Clark, Eden M. Badertscher & Carolina Napp - 2013
Background/Context: Recent research in mathematics education has employed sociocultural and historical lenses to better understand how students experience school mathematics and come to see themselves as capable mathematics learners. This work has identified mathematics classrooms as places where power struggles related to students’ identities occur, struggles that often involve students’ affiliations with racial, ethnic, and gender categories and the mathematics teacher as a critical agent in students’ mathematics identity development. Frameworks for identifying resources that mathematics teachers draw on to teach are evolving, and emerging dimensions of teachers’ knowledge, namely knowledge of students’ lived experiences and histories, as well as teachers’ experiences and identities, are increasingly being considered alongside more traditional dimensions of the knowledge teachers draw on in their practice.
Purpose: The purpose of this article is to explore the perspectives and practices of two African American mathematics teachers, Madison Morgan and Floyd Lee, as they support their African American students’ mathematics identity formation and development.
Participants: At the time of the study, Morgan and Lee were high school mathematics teachers in a large urban school district. Both participants were selected for this analysis because of considerable differences in their life histories, pedagogical approaches, and perspectives.
Research Design: Each teacher was observed approximately 25 times and interviewed 9–10 times. The primary data for this analysis consist of a subset of observations and interviews for the purposes of conducting a qualitative cross-case analysis that examines themes, similarities, and differences in Morgan’s and Lee’s approaches to supporting their students’ mathematics identity development.
Findings: Morgan’s and Lee’s experiences, perspectives, and practices characterize two very different perspectives of what constitutes a positive mathematics identity, while both maintain connections to race and racial identities. In both cases, there exists a subtle paradox in the underlying motivations that the teachers communicated in their interviews related to socializing their African American students and the practices they actually employ in their classrooms. Furthermore, both teachers made use of their capacity to serve as models and motivators for students’ current and future success in mathematics.
Conclusions/Recommendations: If equitable high-quality mathematics instruction is a sincere goal of the mathematics education community, we strongly recommend that researchers further explore the ways that teacher identity, including those dimensions associated with race, class, and gender, serves as an instructional and motivational resource as teachers work to create productive and meaningful learning environments for their students.
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