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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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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 2, 2013, p. 1-36
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16835, Date Accessed: 8/18/2017 2:16:28 PM

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About the Author
  • Lawrence Clark
    University of Maryland, College Park
    E-mail Author
    LAWRENCE M. CLARK is an assistant professor of mathematics education at the University of Maryland, College Park. He conducts both quantitative and qualitative research, with a focus on exploring the relationships between mathematics teachers’ experiences, knowledge domains, and beliefs, particularly in the contexts of urban schools. Furthermore, a thread of his research explores the work and role of African American mathematics teachers in the U.S. education narrative. His most recent publications include “Examining Dilemmas of Practice Associated With Integrating Technology Into Mathematics Classrooms Serving Urban Students” (w/ A. B. Anthony, Urban Education) and “Researching African American Mathematics Teachers of African American Students: Conceptual and Methodological Considerations” (w/ W. Johnson & D. Chazan, in D. Martin (Ed.), Mathematics Teaching, Learning, and Liberation in the Lives of Black Children).
  • Eden Badertscher
    Pittsburgh Public Schools
    E-mail Author
    EDEN BADERTSCHER is the 6-12 Mathematics Curriculum Coordinator for Pittsburgh Public Schools. Eden’s research focuses on the development of middle school mathematics teachers who are facing increasing content and accountability demands. Her research investigates teacher change through inquiry in mathematics and the philosophy of mathematics.
  • Carolina Napp
    University of Maryland, College Park
    E-mail Author
    CAROLINA NAPP is a doctoral candidate in the Center for Mathematics Education at the University of Maryland, College Park. Carolina’s current interest is in how to use research-based theory to improve mathematics in schools under the real life constraints teachers face every day, such as high stakes testing and school district curriculum guidelines.
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