• Nepantla Teachers

"The Dream of Education" Part II

This is a continuation of a previous post. Click here to read Part 1


Part II Norms for Reading Our Blog

In Part II of the blog post, each author will have engaged with a reflective tool to analyze the powers at play in the situation. The purpose of reflection is to refine and redefine oneself, so that one can continue growing into a more disciplined self. Nepantla Teachers Community is using a reflection tool called Levels of Oppression (created by Mariame Kaba). This reflection tool is included below with the definitions of four types of oppressions. When we analyze the levels of oppression we are looking at, we are asking ourselves the questions “Who had the power?”, “Who had control?”, and “Who had access to what?”.



Part II Analysis and Resolution- (Written by Jennifer Dao)


Levels of Oppression

Personal

-Originally, my thoughts about the Algebra Excite support class was that these classes comprised of unmotivated students. We cannot make things exciting for students who don’t find anything exciting in the first place. After teaching the course over two years, I recognize that students are not unmotivated but rather have different needs and are labeled as struggling learners because of their low test scores. Such needs include but are not limited to social emotional and language needs. They are deep thinkers and brilliant mathematicians but are placed in support classes because some cannot recall their multiplication facts immediately. Others are so deflated from school because they worry about appearing dumb if they ask for help or take risks in sharing their answers.


Interpersonal

-Administrators in my school work very hard and care for our school, but similar to teachers, they have to meet demands and expectations from the district. I know for a fact that my administrators care for our school, but I find myself in a place of tension when they share new expectations set by the district that clashes with their own beliefs as well as teacher beliefs. Recently information was shared with us according to this company that preaches there is a technical fix to close the achievement gap and the first step is to align standards. Although I see some truth and value to alignment and teaching to the standards, it felt very degrading to hear that teachers do not know the standards well enough and must be better at understanding them. I cried at the staff meeting after hearing this as I took it personally. Dr. Kristopher Childs recently tweeted “We STILL Unpacking standards in 2019, STOP re-creating the wheel and focus on the tasks that will be utilized during instruction.” Words of wisdom, in my opinion.


Institutional

-We used to have Algebra 1 and Algebra 8, and the demographics of the two classes were starkly different even though the classes had the same curriculum and pacing. Algebra 1 comprised of mostly white students with higher MAP scores whereas Algebra 8 comprised of Black and Latinx students with lower MAP scores than Algebra 1 students. My district agreed to detrack Algebra and combine the classes under the condition that an Algebra support class would be put in place to help students pass the course to ensure that they are equipped with the skills necessary to succeed.

I have developed strong relationships with each of my students and know their strengths and passions as well as where they struggle in math. Regardless of how well I know them, I notice that they are at a burnout point by the end of the year, especially students in the Algebra Excite class who feel defeated taking an extra 40 minutes of math a day, equating to 120 minutes of math a day. As a result, I too am at a burnout point with them feeling that I need to cover all of the standards and goals even though they have not retained a lot.


Cultural/Societal

-There is a deficit model of thinking towards historically oppressed students and that they need more support to succeed on standardized test scores and school in general. Although there is great diversity in my school district, we have a lot of work to do towards equity and must be honest with ourselves. Although Algebra has been detracked, the Algebra Excite class perpetuates the belief that historically oppressed students are less capable.

-There is a factory model of education that establishes the notion that more inputs creates more outputs. The viewpoint that more time devoted towards a subject the more they will improve on their tests does not always correlate as one must wonder how much do students retain? What relevance does their learning pertain to their own experiences?



So What Happened?

I simply told my principal, “That would be great if we can bring this intricate world of robotics and creativity to our students. But in all honesty, I really don’t know how to do it overnight by myself.” In my 6 years of teaching, I have experienced triumphs and failures in attempts to engage students, helping them find excitement in school while making sure I cover all the algebra skills. I used to think warm-ups and do-nows required two to four problems reviewing skills from the prior day that neatly fit on a half sheet of paper for students to work on independently and quietly. After all, that was the world I knew as a student. But thanks to the world of twitter, #mtbos/#iteachmath, I have learned that there are so many ways and resources to engage students when they first enter class.


My mind shift in warmups began after my friend and colleague Marissa Walzcak wrote a blog post on how she shifted her daily warm up routine. From Fawn Nguyen’s Visual Patterns to Which One Doesn’t Belong, there are so many resources that are low floor, high ceiling tasks. My favorite has to be giving students any picture and asking them what do they notice and what do they wonder, thank you Annie Fetter!


As a child of Vietnamese immigrants, I was really curious about Asian cultures when I was growing up. I became an origami enthusiast early on, and I am so excited by the geometry origami has to offer. My mom first taught me how to fold a paper airplane when I was in pre-school and thanks to countless origami books and the origami community on Youtube, I have learned the beauty of modular origami. When I can, especially in our geometry unit, using the book Butterflies, Pinwheels, and Wallpaper by CMP3, I have students explore origami pinwheels and sonobe units to construct tetrahedrons, cubes, dodecahedrons, and icosahedrons.


This upcoming school year, my colleague and I designed a Genius Hour curriculum for our summer curriculum project and hope to incorporate that in our math classes as we teach 80 minutes of math a day. We hope to give students 20% time to explore their passions in productive and meaningful ways. Most importantly we want students to be able to connect their passions to the community by asking them the essential question: How does my passion impact my school, my city, state, and the world? Of course this is no easy feat, and will take a lot of fine tuning, but opening this time for students is what I think is the most valuable if it is structured and implemented well.


My most favorite student quote: “Math Class is Amazing! It goes by too fast, didn’t even hear the second block period bell ring” encapsulates what I want for all of my students. As I enter my 7th year teaching, I am starting to learn as an educator that the more experience you get does not necessarily mean the more you know. I am at this point in my career where I am willing to take risks and try to be better in a world of high stakes testing. I desperately want to bring the world of innovation and creativity for my students every day. Nevertheless, I find myself in this vicious school system of grading, endless paperwork, meetings that drain teachers at the end of the day, and very little time to collaborate meaningfully with colleagues. To all the teachers feeling that they are alone in trying to make a difference for students, know that you are not alone.


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Thank you for reading our second blog post set of Nepantla Teachers Community. We will be posting a mathematics educator's story on the first Sat and following Wed of every month. Subscribe to get email notifications.


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