A Tour of “Nepantla Teachers Community” Blog

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.

“Small Wins: Math & Identity”

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.

She wrote:

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.

“Universal Language Part I” and “Universal Language Part II”

Like other Part I and Part II posts on the blog, part I shares “a math teacher author’s real dilemma that they have recently experienced” and part II provides “an analysis of the powers at play and the author’s response (or lack of response) to the situation.” 

In part I, Melissa Adams-Corral wrote:

In the summer before my third-year teaching, our district made a decision that I thought would be a game-changer: mandating dual language education district-wide. Previously, most schools in our district operated under bilingual education models that were focused on quickly moving children to all English instruction, with many schools refusing to offer clases bilingues at all. Moving to dual language meant that the district was taking an explicit stance advocating for students to continue to develop their English and Spanish side-by-side. I remember feeling very excited and hopeful about this shift…finalmente, I thought, policy would reflect the goal I had going into teaching—pride in bilinguismo, and meaningful, relevant language and content area instruction for mis estudiantes. It was a dream come true…that is, until I saw the model that all teachers were told to follow ‘with fidelity.’

This model required that certain content areas be taught in one language only and that teachers practice and enforce strict separation of languages in the classroom. My bilingüismo doesn’t work that way—it flows effortlessly, trying to stop it is like putting a wall in the middle of a river. I grew up in a bilingual home in Miami, where my language never needed to be split in two. During the summer, I would spend weeks with my primos en Honduras, singing along to Boyz II Men and Shakira, watching movies and telenovelas. Back at home in my city, bilinguismo and latinidad was lo normal. I became a bilingual teacher in large part because my language y mi cultura are a large source of my joy, pride and hope. I imagined bilingual teaching as being the work of supporting children as they grew from similar raices.”

When she followed the policy “with fidelity,” which required that her mathematics classes be taught only in English, Adams-Corral noticed a disturbing pattern. “In every math discussion, students who were comfortable speaking in English dominated. And mis estudiantes who preferred to read and write in español? They were silent. I could call on them and ask them questions, but they would shake their heads no, refusing to speak up. I would remind them that they could share their thinking in any language, already moving away from ‘total fidelity.’ But they would sit there and wait.”

Part II tackles the response, starting with Levels of Oppression, a reflection tool created by Mariame Kaba. I’ll leave it to you to check out Part II, because it’s meant to be read after reading and pondering part I.

Have ideas or comments to share? Reach out in the comments or on Twitter (@writesRCrowell)!

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