Reflecting on DingleTeach Wisdom

Saw this today, and pretty immediately started listening.

I hope that all of you are now familiar with Marian Dingle @dingleteach, either way, you will learn a lot from this conversation. She’s an elementary teacher with a seemingly infinite depth of wisdom and eloquence. Passionate about bringing social justice to her classroom and yours. Relentless about making sure our conversations aren’t superficial. Go listen to this conversation. It’s long, but it’s totally worth it. You will learn a lot.

Taking a Knee in Math Class

Here are a few thoughts I had while listening and a few personal reflections on myself and my teaching.

I have a lot of work to do to broaden the impact of any work that I do. 

I’m currently at a pretty self-centered place when it comes to teaching, learning, and my classroom. I struggle to effectively collaborate with other teachers, and I’m not nearly as vocal as I could be, even when I know my voice will be heard. (Not necessarily heeded, but it is often heard.) In the podcast, Marian asks us to challenge the conscious and unconscious expectations we have of students. I like to think that I’m trying to do that. When I grade, I am always in my head asking whether I’ve scored students fairly based on the work in front of me, or whether I’ve graded them based on what my perceived expectations are for them. I regularly catch myself being unfair, and I try to rectify that. I think about that all the time, but I think this is the first time I’ve said it “aloud”. I don’t regularly talk to other teachers about it, because it’s uncomfortable. I should get over that. I try to also be in my head during class – who am I talking to? Who am I giving wait time to? With whom am I being too helpful and with whom am I not helping enough?

Marian also asks what teachers are doing to center their students of color (SOC). I like to think that I’m trying to do that, too. I have consciously and intentionally invited several SOC to join my “advanced” classes and had conferences with them after they’ve joined to see how it’s going. This I do bring up in staff meetings, and I do try to regularly ask other teachers how they’re helping to make the advanced classes more representative of our student body (read: more SOC).

I pay close attention to whose voices are heard in my classroom, and try to lift up the voices of SOC. Students have talked to me about this being a problem in the past, and I’m trying, in daily discussions, to make sure SOC are heard every time they want to speak. I also try to actively seek their voice when they aren’t volunteering. This of course, is touchy because I don’t want to put them on the spot, but I do things like asking SOC during work time if they’re willing to share their ideas, and or I ask if I can display their work. I am positive that I could do better, that I can do more, but I am trying to do this. I have not, however, tried much, to talk to other educators about it. I should do that. (This is a start.)

I have a RIDICULOUS amount of privilege. Despite my efforts to try to be more conscious of it, I still don’t see it all. 

Early on in the conversation, Marian talked about how she wanted to start talking this year about race and social justice in her classes, so she went to her administrator and held parent meetings. My initial reaction to this was to wonder why she felt she needed to go through these hoops. When I’ve wanted to talk about race, or any other perceived “touchy” subject, I’ve just done so. I never doubted that I would be able to deal with any blow back, nor that it would be doubted I had the right to talk about it in class. Now, it’s true that Marian is just better than I am at foresight and she is more cognizant of the community at large. As I alluded to above, I think that I’m working primarily at an individual level rather than a collective. But it’s striking to me that while I feel I can just start talking about these things, Marian prepared.

See that? Not only has Marian, a black woman, (and she talks about this in the podcast) had to repeatedly justify her expertise to her staff, admin, parents, and students, she anticipated the possible issues with discussing race and social justice in her classroom and took preemptive efforts to address those. I’ve never felt the need. I haven’t had parent meetings, felt like I needed to head’s up my administrator, nor that it would be reasonable of anyone to question that I want to bring these issues to my classroom. That’s privilege, and I didn’t see it until listening to this conversation.

History, especially misguided history, is a palpable thing that dramatically impacts us. When it’s not questioned, when parts are left out, it is so damaging. 

Marian mentioned Hidden Figures in the podcast, and how angry she was that this part of history had been hidden from her. (She also noted frustration that the math community wasn’t as hype about it as she expected. She’s not alone. I was jarred by the lack of enthusiasm in the math teaching world for the movie.) The host of the podcast, Dr. Angela Dye, also mentioned that she has only recently discovered she enjoys math, and that had life been different, she might have taken a different path, citing a lack of access to knowledge about math careers or role models. They also open the podcast talking about what is present in American history texts and what isn’t. I’ve only recently started reflecting on my own historical education, and although I’m really not that old (I’m 32), I have experienced some pretty messed up history in my time. I absolutely recall being told that the civil war wasn’t really about slavery, it was about “economy”. I remember the day. I’m only starting now to be able to dismantle the damage done to my biases from being taught growing up “to not see color”. When I think of the scope of how often these things were taught and how embedded they are into my generation (and each generation has its own), it is horrifying.

Marian mentions the Mathematician’s Project in the podcast, and more importantly, that while it’s a first step, it’s just that. I have so many feelings about it. I firmly believe it to be a good thing, but I will share that my perception of it has changed so much over time. When I first started doing it, even though it was my student’s idea, I’ll admit that I totally patted myself on the back. As I’ve shared it with more and more educators, though, I’ve started to get a sinking feeling. It has always felt kind of weird to me, that this thing, a trove of mathematicians of many backgrounds, hasn’t already had a place, an institution, where it existed before. There are TONS of similar projects out there, but they all seem disconnected and fledgling. Mine, too. What makes me feel so uneasy is that it seems so revolutionary to so many people I talk to. It should not be revolutionary. It’s not something one should pat ourselves on the back for, it’s something we should be ashamed wasn’t cooked into schools from the first. We’re not doing “extra” good work here, we’re making up for the failures of how we present mathematics and who gets the accolades for it. I will likely continue to do the mathematicians project for the rest of my career, and it will only just be a start.

There is so much more in the podcast. Please go listen to it. We are so blessed that Marian is part of our community, and so blessed that she’s dedicated so much time to reaching out to have conversations with colleagues.


Author: Ms. P

Math Teacher in Minneapolis, MN.

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