The Nepantla Teachers Community Blog is a group blog that aims “to provide an honest and encouraging space to navigate sociopolitical situations that occur in mathematics education for the purpose of working towards justice in traditionally marginalized communities. By using the word political, we mean any situation that involves power dynamics,” according to its authors. There are six instructors on the blog’s leadership team — Esther Song (high school math specialist with the Chicago Public Schools), Chanel Keyvan (Assistant Principal at Oswego Community SD and former mathematics teacher at Oswego Community SD), Jennifer Dao (mathematics teacher at Evanston-Skokie SD), Jerica Jurado-Paz (mathematics teacher at Chicago Public Schools), Erin Berg (mathematics teacher at Lyons SD) and Crystal Penn (mathematics teacher at Fulton SD in Atlanta).
Here are a few interesting recent posts on the blog.
This post, which is part of the “Small Wins” series on the blog, was written by an anonymous writer Michelle, a math teacher who describes her experience with learning from her students “how to break the rules.” Her California school district has a policy that for remote Zoom learning, students must only use selfies, Bitmojis or nothing as their profile picture. But when she required that one student chance his profile picture because it didn’t meet those requirements, he said “I don’t see why I need to change my picture. I’m just trying to learn.” After he told her that his profile picture was of his favorite rapper who had died — and changed his picture back to it after she let him into the Zoom meeting — she allowed him to keep it as his picture.
What does my Zoom picture policing have to do with social justice and mathematics education? Everything. Especially in a Zoom environment, where most students’ cameras are off, it is even more difficult for students to express who they are as human beings. The limited avenues for self-expression are their Zoom picture and name, which are both mediated through Zoom as a platform. When Alberto changed his Zoom picture back to the picture of his favorite rapper, Alberto had demonstrated resistance in the mathematics classroom. How can students view themselves as mathematicians if they cannot bring who they are into the classroom? Who are students as mathematicians if they cannot resist and question what it means to be a student engulfed in a larger school system during a pandemic? As we discussed in our [Nepantla Teachers Community] over the summer, students are not simply stripped of their identities when they step into the mathematics classroom, even though many wish mathematics to be an apolitical space.
I asked myself, “Why am I following this distance learning policy so closely? Which students might this policy disproportionately harm? What actual consequences are there if students don’t follow this rule?” There are nuances and complexities within all of these questions. For instance, I am a first year teacher without tenure. There have been instances of inappropriate/offensive Zoom pictures. However, in the end, I decided to let Alberto keep his Zoom picture.
The “Student Voices in Remote Learning” series is also worth checking out. The most recent post in that series is from May.