My interest in math education grows out of my own experiences as a White high school mathematics teacher. I grew up immersed in and accepting of the dominant discourses that are all around us, especially discourses of Whiteness. I did not consider myself privileged and believed many of the myths of Whiteness, including meritocracy. I thought of racism as a problem of the past and had minimal interactions with people of color. Learning to speak Spanish and living for 2 years in southern Chile began to open my thinking to different perspectives on the world, racism, and discrimination. When I returned to the United States and reenrolled in college it was now with a goal of becoming a teacher. On completing a bachelor’s degree in mathematics education and Spanish teaching as well as a master’s degree in teaching English as a second language, I took my first teaching job at a public rural high school in Colorado. The high school had a student population of about 750 with 50% Latino students, mostly from Mexico and Central America. The school had a strong ESL program and was one of the few rural schools I found with a functioning sheltered mathematics program.

As a 1st-year teacher I taught all of the sheltered mathematics classes and continued teaching every sheltered mathematics class that was offered. Overall my teaching experience was very positive and the relationships that I developed with my students continue to evolve. However, I was also aware that my teaching was not what I wanted it to be. I identified then (and now) first as a teacher and secondly as a mathematics[1] guy. What I found frustrating was the difficulty in teaching in a way that was so different from how I had been taught and in which I had little outside support. In addition, I felt that I could not see beyond the abstract, dominant mathematics in order to understand how to make the connections to students’ lives that I felt were necessary. In this high school I witnessed first-hand the roles of race and class in the lives of students in our education system. There was a superficial harmony at the school between the wealthy White students and the working-class Latino students. However, there were clear divisions on race and class lines that determined which entrance to the school students used, what classes they took, which sports they participated in and supported, what cars they drove (or didn’t drive), even where they parked their cars,[2] and where and if they went to college.

Mathematics classes were one of the key ways to maintain these divisions. Once these divisions were made (mostly in middle school) they were set. A student who began high school taking Algebra 1 would not make it to AP Calculus as a senior. As a new teacher I felt the pressure of maintaining my position as a teacher, and so supporting the school policies; I also wanted to better serve my students who were not being served by those same school policies. I wanted to teach mathematics in innovative and at times critical ways, but I felt the need to conform to traditional views of teaching mathematics. Perhaps more importantly I saw that the school was not meeting the needs of my students in a number of ways. There was a stark contrast between the privileged educational experiences that I had and those of my students. The combination of these factors led me to pursue a PhD in education, in order to better understand the education of Latino students in the United States and to improve the teaching of mathematics.

[1] I hesitate to use the term “mathematician” as I don’t see myself that way. I have always been very good at school mathematics, but in my mind that is very different from being a mathematician.

[2] During my final year of teaching the school implemented a policy, over my weak protest, in which all parking stalls in the student lot were assigned to students, but to get a spot students had to present a driver’s license, proof of insurance, and pay a fee. Since many of my students either did not have a license or could not afford the fee they had to park in the mud parking lot of the park across the street. School administrators did not see the policy as discriminatory.

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