Marcus Blakeney, Louisville, KY firstname.lastname@example.org
This past February, I had the opportunity to participate in an Ignite Talk at the CPM National Conference. I proudly proclaimed, “I’m also a Black male math teacher.” When you start to think about it, I only represent 7% of the teaching population, but I learned that 53% of our kids are the minorities. Our students look a lot like me. I also proclaimed, “I love teaching math and I am very passionate about sharing that with my students. I embrace the diversity every day when I walk into my school and I walk into my classroom.”
In the same weekend of my Ignite Talk, the president of NCTM wrote a blog that asked, “How do you teach Black kids math?” I thought to myself, “Wait a minute. My undergrad program did not prepare me…” So, how do we do it?
I will share three strategies for addressing, “How do I teach Black kids math?” First, we want to become transparent in the learning goals and tasks with our students. Consider these questions: Where is this going? Why am I doing this? How is this relevant to what we are currently doing in our math classrooms? Where is the contextual evidence? Implementing the CPM
curriculum will provide a foundation for us to address these questions but it is our role to forwardly state the answer to our students throughout the year.
Next, relationships matter. Now I am going to say it: you have to like kids. You have to like Black kids. When we build positive relationships with our students in the classroom, students know we care about them. When students know they matter in our classroom, our students, especially our Black students, will continue to excel personally and academically. When this type of growth occurs within our students, they can start to become agents of change within their community and in the classroom.
Finally, when teaching our content, especially with our Black students (who often do not see themselves in math), we need to have fun. Many students come into our classrooms with their own personal trauma and look to us as a source of escape or to provide coping mechanisms. We have to laugh. When we are building that community by doing team building activities and icebreakers, it is okay to smile. It is okay to smile at your kids because it may make a difference in their day.
So I am going to ask you a question to think about. When your Black students walk into your classroom, who do you see? Do you see mathematicians? Do you see agents of change? Do you see math? Or when you look at them, do you see another black face? As you begin to think about that question, reflect on your own practice. Have difficult conversations with your colleagues. It is okay to be uncomfortable. But when you acknowledge that belief, you then begin to start changing practices while also changing the students you teach. It is essential for our Black students to be able to see themselves as math students.