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Strategies for Creative Insubordination in Mathematics Teaching



Mathematics teaching requires political agility on the part of teachers who must negotiate their contexts in order to advocate for their students. Yet, most teachers of mathematics are not prepared for this work. This article presents a set of strategies that teachers can use in their everyday interactions with administrators, colleagues, parents, and students when political scenarios arise related to mathematics teaching and learning.
Mathematics Education: Through the Lens of Social Justice
Teaching for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics
Vol. 7, No. 1, Summer 2016
Strategies for Creative Insubordination in Mathematics Teaching
Rochelle Gutiérrez
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Mathematics teaching requires political agility on the part of teachers who must negotiate their
contexts in order to advocate for their students. Yet, most teachers of mathematics are not
prepared for this work. This article presents a set of strategies that teachers can use in their
everyday interactions with administrators, colleagues, parents, and students when political
scenarios arise related to mathematics teaching and learning.
This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Grant # 0934901. Thank you to the teachers who
so graciously shared their teaching struggles and accomplishments with me. Research assistants include: Sonya
E. Irving, Juan Manuel Gerardo, & Gabriela E. Vargas.
Rochelle Gutiérrez ( is Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and
Latina/Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her current research projects include:
theorizing mathematics in relation to power, identity, the body, and authority in society; developing pre-service
teachers' knowledge and disposition to teach powerful mathematics to marginalized students; and mathematics
teachers using Creative Insubordination.
Mathematics Education: Through the Lens of Social Justice
Teaching for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics
Vol. 7, No. 1, Summer 2016
Teaching involves making complex, everyday, in-
the-moment decisions that have clear impacts on
students, colleagues, and even teachers themselves
(Schoenfeld, 1999). Whether or not to call on a
student during class; how many points to give on a
test problem; to what extent students are allowed to
work in groups; or whether to offer time after school
to help students who are not performing well in class
all have consequences for students and teachers alike.
However, most teachers do not see their everyday
decisions as political acts; instead, they develop the
view that teaching is only political when introduced
to concepts like “social justice mathematics teaching”
or “culturally relevant mathematics teaching”
(Aguirre, 2009; Gutiérrez, 2015a; Bartell, 2013; de
Freitas, 2012; Gutstein, 2006; Leonard et al., 2009).
While we strive to make a positive impact on all of
our students, schooling contexts can change that.
High stakes education, Response to Intervention
initiatives, Race to the Top campaigns, and the latest
packaged reforms can keep us from acting on what is
in the best interest of our students and their learning.
Given the current state of high stakes education, those
of us who want to advocate for our students may feel
we have few options other than to bend the rules or be
quietly subversive behind closed doors. Rather than
reinventing the wheel, we can learn from teachers
1 I use the term Black to highlight the fact that many
such students living in the US have ancestry in the
Caribbean, South America, and Asia, among other
places. Black students who attend schools and live in
the US are racialized in similar ways, regardless of
country of origin.
2 I use the @ sign to indicate an intermingling of the
“a” and “o” ending (Latina and Latino) partly to
decenter the idea of a gender binary and to work
against the patriarchal nature of the Spanish
language where it is customary for groups of males
(Latinos) and females (Latinas) to be written in the
form that denotes only males (Latinos). The term is a
sign of solidarity with individuals who identify as
who have successfully negotiated the politics in their
work settings to advocate for their students to learn
creative and meaningful mathematics and to develop
more robust mathematical identities. With funding
from the National Science Foundation, I have worked
with teachers over the past 6 years to develop their
political knowledge and their propensity to take risks
on behalf of students (Gutiérrez, 2013a). These
teachers, many working in the inner city and teaching
students who are Black1, Latin@2, historically looted3
and/or emergent bilinguals4, have learned to use an
internal standard to measure their professionalism.
That is, rather than looking to external entities such
as their students’ scores on state tests, their own
performance score on district mandated teacher
evaluations, the number of district sanctioned
professional development units, or “badges” given
out by the Pearson Group for promoting the Common
Core State Standards (National Governors
Association, 2010), they look to the mirror and ask
themselves if they are doing what they set out to do in
teaching, something I call The Mirror Test. Guided by
their ethics, these teachers have learned to be creative
in the ways they talk and act with others in their work
environments so that they are successful in
advocating for youth and not simply dismissed.
Researchers studying school principals who resist
bureaucratic policies and directives to protect
lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and
queer (LGBTQ). I use Latin@ instead of Latinx to
privilege the oral language where Latin@ can be
read as a diphthong, a gliding vowel.
3 I use the term “historically looted” instead of “low
income” to highlight the ongoing domination these
students face and the benefits dominant members of
society reap as a result.
4 I use “emergent bilingual” instead of “English
learner” both to decenter the idea that English should
be the standard by which we measure students and to
highlight that such students already have facility in
one or more languages.
Strategies for Creative Insubordination in Mathematics Teaching
Rochelle Gutiérrez
Teaching for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics
Vol. 7, No. 1, Summer 2016
Mathematics Education: Through the Lens of Social Justice
teachers have labeled this work Creative
Insubordination (Crowson & Morris, 1985), a term
that derives from activist circles in the 1980s where I
first heard it. This article extends the early research
on Creative Insubordination that focused on
principals by connecting it with teachers and showing
its usefulness in secondary mathematics (Gutiérrez,
2013a, b, 2015a, b; Gutiérrez et al., 2013; Gutiérrez
& Gregson, 2013). With respect to mathematics
teaching, Creative Insubordination includes the
following acts: decentering the achievement gap;
questioning the forms of mathematics presented in
school; highlighting the humanity and uncertainty of
mathematics; positioning students as authors of
mathematics; and challenging deficit narratives about
students of color.
Rather than blindly following district mandates or
implicit policies, the teachers with whom we have
worked hold themselves to a higher ethical standard
for making their classrooms humane and meaningful
for students. After studying their risk-taking
(Gutiérrez, 2015d) and success, I categorized their
effective practices into the following six strategies:
Press for Explanation, Counter with Evidence, Use
the Master’s Tools, Seek Allies, Turn a Rational Issue
into a Moral One, and Fly Under the Radar. I provide
a brief description of each strategy and then highlight
a few through further description and an example.
Strategies for Creative Insubordination
What follows are strategies for addressing political
situations we face as mathematics teachers. I define
political as any act that involves power dynamics,
where one person uses their authority (real or
perceived) to pressure others to conform to a
particular norm. Everyday we use our authority to get
students to conform to particular norms of classroom
culture. Schools require us to start/stop our classes at
a particular time. We assign homework and/or
classwork that must be done in a particular amount of
time. Many of these situations may already align with
how we believe mathematics teaching and learning
should occur. So, we do not think of them as political,
though they are. However, when our work setting
obstructs our goals and departs from the reasons we
went into teaching in the first place, this causes
tension and requires us to reflect on whether or not to
take a risk in order to advocate for ourselves or for our
Not every political situation in mathematics teaching
is a major confrontation. In fact, most are everyday
events and comments, sometimes not even made to us
directly. These comments can be so subtle and so
much a part of what is considered “normal” con-
versation or practice, that they go unnoticed. These
everyday events include: a derogatory comment about
a student from a colleague or superior; a new policy
that waters down the curriculum or undermines our
previous success with students; a departmental
structure that assigns the least experienced teachers to
the most difficult classes; a nation-wide focus on
standardized testing; or a comment made by one
student to another that perpetuates the myth that some
people are good at mathematics and others are not.
Choosing an appropriate strategy requires we first
recognize the kind of issue at stake (i.e., What power
dynamics are operating? How does this issue relate to
student learning and social justice?) and then consider
the speaker(s), our relationship with them, and the
context in which we find ourselves. These strategies
are not a list of procedures to follow but rather
examples of things that have worked for other
teachers so as to inspire all of us. The strategies also
are not meant to be distinct in the sense that only one
is used at a time. In fact, combining two or more
strategies can magnify their effects. Let us consider
the strategies.
Press for Explanation
Whenever we are presented with a political situation,
we may decide not to respond immediately and might
simply press for explanation. For example, we may be
surprised to hear a colleague undervalue a culturally
relevant curriculum by stating, “Why do we have
Black history month, anyhow?” Rather than attacking
the speaker, Press for Explanation suggests we allow
others to talk. We are essentially buying time. This
strategy allows us to put the pressure on others to keep
defending their points while we develop our counter-
arguments. A couple of easy phrases to help buy time
are: “Say more” or “I’m not sure I fully understand.
Can you give me an example?” “Say more” is a great
phrase because it does not indicate whether or not you
agree with a statement; it invites further discussion
without automatic defensiveness.
Teaching for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics
Vol. 7, No. 1, Summer 2016
Mathematics Education: Through the Lens of Social Justice
Counter with Evidence
When confronted with a representation of students or
mathematics that seems harmful, a teacher might
offer a different point of view. For example, we might
be told by a superior, “These kids can’t handle a more
rigorous curriculum.” We could ask ourselves: What
evidence do I have that suggests a counter-narrative
or opposing perspective? Do I have examples of
students’ work (e.g. assessments; classwork;
homework) or instructional strategies I use in my
classroom others say will never work (e.g. question-
ing strategies that elicit and build on student
thinking)? When sharing these samples with others, it
is important to highlight how they are not unique,
thus preventing them from being placed into, “That’s
an exception” box. Rather than emphasizing how we
are successful when others are not, it is generally
more effective to focus on the contexts that allow
students to prosper. In this way, we keep colleagues
from feeling like we are making judgments about
them personally.
Use the Master’s Tools
Often, we are subjected to specific policies or
constructs that confine us to doing things in ways that
maintain the status quo of systemic power and
privilege. These may be looked upon as the master’s
tools, the ways we are controlled (Lorde, 1984).
However, we can flip this around and use these tools
in ways they were not intended but that work to our
advantage. We simply need to find ways to align
written or oral statements of those in power with our
goals. For example, if we are required to do “test
prep” and we don’t believe in taking away teaching
time to do so, we might give students the answers
first. Then have them work in groups to discuss how
an individual could have gotten the “wrong” answers.
This moves away from pressure to get the right
answer; allows students to see how someone could
have gotten both the correct answer (which
emphasizes reasoning) and an incorrect answer
(which encourages empathy for having assumed
different mathematical assumptions); and shows how
test companies intentionally create answers that are
attractive distractors, helping students see that
standardized tests aren’t always the best measure of
what one knows.
With Use the Master’s Tools, we find ways to do what
is in the best interest of our students and justify it with
language that is valued in our schools or in
professional documents. We can ask ourselves, “Can
my work be seen as related to my “School
Improvement Plan” or “Response to Intervention?””
“Can I tie my work to the Common Core State
Standards that asks teachers to develop a “Productive
Disposition” in our students (Kilpatrick et al.,
2001)?” This habitual inclination to see mathematics
as sensible, useful, and worthwhile coupled with a
belief in one’s own efficacy relates more closely with
“identity,” as opposed to just looking to provide
students with more “access” or “achievement” on
four equity dimensions 5 I have elaborated on
elsewhere (Gutiérrez, 2009). The overall focus is on
recognizing that while the master’s tools will never
dismantle the master’s house (Lorde, 1984), they can
work to our advantage in the short term.
Seek Allies
This strategy suggests we find individuals who are
more adept at certain practices than we are; people
who know how to navigate our working context well;
those who have been in our building longer than we
have and who, for reasons such as lived experiences
or sustained commitment, have gained the trust of
students or administrators; and ask for their advice.
It’s much easier for us to convince others of
something if we have a critical mass of people to echo
our views. Often times, we only need 1-2 other people
to accomplish something. For example, we can rely
on our colleagues to restate our points/concerns
during faculty meetings so that the burden does not
fall completely on our shoulders. This is especially
important for newer teachers. If planning to rely on
others in a meeting, it is helpful to have a “pre-
meeting” to decide who will say what and to
anticipate the kinds of opposition that can arise.
Turn a Rational Issue into a Moral One
This strategy asks us to turn the conversation into one
that highlights our moral character and that of those
5 The four dimensions of equity are: Access,
Achievement, Identity, and Power.
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Mathematics Education: Through the Lens of Social Justice
around us. This is useful when logic doesn’t work and
when all of our arguments, data, and reasons to
consider a different option fall on deaf ears. It also
works well in public settings because nobody wants
to look bad on a moral issue. The focus is on
convincing people to “do the right thing,” an effective
strategy that activists have used for decades. Some
language to consider is, “Regardless of what the data
suggest or what has been done in the past, is this what
we want to stand for (or be remembered by) as a
department/team/school/teachers?” The inverse of
this strategy is to use privilege, instead of morals,
turning the conversation into one that puts our
colleagues in a position of power. This strategy
appeals to those who care less about ethics and are
more ego-driven. Helpful language includes, “That’s
what we’re being told to do, but leaders are not rule
Fly Under the Radar
Sometimes the aforementioned strategies just do not
apply to our situation. The risk is too high or the
likelihood of even being noticed for challenging the
status quo is minimal. In that case, we might decide
to just do what is in the best interest of students and
not let others know until we have a track record of
success. This strategy is useful for having our
students work in groups when no one in our
department does; trying out a new homework policy
in a class; instituting a creative hands-on mathematics
activity that uses the body or otherwise challenges the
notion that doing mathematics only requires a brain
and technology (e.g., paper and pencil; computer);
doing a monthly social justice mathematics activity;
or having student leadership teams that inform our
teaching. The motto to this strategy is Ask for
forgiveness, not permission. The key is to eventually
share what we have been doing once we can
document its success.
Creative Insubordination in Practice
Let’s take those strategies and apply them to a
political situation that a mathematics teacher faced.
Mr. Ramirez’ high school had been successful with
their predominantly Latin@ student population, many
of which had Spanish as the language they spoke at
home. Mr. Ramirez and his colleagues were
convinced that part of their success was due to using
the Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP)
curriculum (Alper et al., 1997). Their students had
learned to work well in groups; they were
communicating their mathematical ideas in Spanish
and English; and were comfortable coming to the
board to explain their work and to justify why it made
sense. Yet, the school district decided to stop using
IMP, preferring a curriculum that, in their eyes, better
prepared students for standardized tests by focusing
on basic skills and ample amounts of practice
problems. Instead of just accepting this new policy,
Mr. Ramirez and several of his colleagues decided to
stand up to administrators. They met regularly to
decide how best to respond in a professional manner.
Seeing that their district highly valued the idea of
“data-driven decision making,” they offered to be the
“control case” for the district. That is, while other
schools stopped using IMP, they would continue to
use it and the district could compare their students’
results with the results of other schools that moved to
a basic skills curriculum. Beyond the typical test
scores collected by the school, the mathematics
department also collected data on how their students
were doing in their courses to show that widespread
student engagement and the ability to work with
others to explain their answers were outcomes of their
This approach begins with Seek Allies but then
focuses deeply on Use the Master’s Tools and a bit of
Counter with Evidence. By meeting together to
brainstorm how they would approach their situation
and using language and practices that were valued by
the district (“data driven decision making” and
“control case”), they positioned themselves not in
opposition, but in alignment with the overall goals of
administrators. In this respect, they kept from being
easily dismissed. Although IMP was eventually
eliminated from their school, the strategy of Use the
Master’s Tools bought them a few more years of
using the curriculum they wanted. During that time,
they also recruited some newer teachers into the
school who wanted to teach with IMP. These newer
teachers shared the department’s commitment to
students; their work today reflects many of the
principles they feel supported students— getting them
to work with each other, valuing students’ home
language, focusing on conceptual not just procedural
understanding, and having students present their work
to the class. So, while Mr. Ramirez and his colleagues
lost the battle over the specific curriculum used, they
won another important battle: increasing the amount
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Vol. 7, No. 1, Summer 2016
Mathematics Education: Through the Lens of Social Justice
of teachers in their department who were committed
to advancing historically marginalized students in
mathematics. Seeking Allies and Using the Master’s
Tools aided their long-term vision to reclaim
mathematics teaching in ways that were consistent
with their shared belief that learning could not be
captured by test scores alone.
What Keeps Teachers from Using Creative
If these practices of Creative Insubordination are so
useful, why aren’t more teachers using them? The
answer is complex. On the one hand, many teachers,
especially newer ones, fear retribution. For them, the
insubordination part sounds like grounds for being
fired. Insubordination of any kind may not align with
the implicit message of what it means to be a
professional given in many teacher education
programs (Gutiérrez, 2015a). Rather than developing
a critical eye on new initiatives, professional
development often unwittingly exposes teachers to
what I call Weapons of Mass Distraction [e.g.,
understanding and employing the Common Core
State Standards, developing in students a “growth
mindset” (Dweck, 2006) or “grit” (Duckworth, 2016),
closing the achievement gap, or using more
technology in the classroom]. While these reforms are
worthwhile goals, they can distract teachers from
being able to recognize the structural or systemic
problems that lie at the heart of meaningful learning.
In order to be professionals, teachers need to
understand the strengths and limitations of new
initiatives. In this respect, teachers may be
underprepared to do Creative Insubordination
because they lack the tools or opportunities to carry
out critical analyses. They might not understand how
a focus on “grit” or “growth mindset” is highly
cognitive, places the burden of change on the
individual, and fails to interrogate institutional
structures/practices that disadvantage students of
color in schools (Ferlazzo, 2015; Kohn, 2015).
Moreover, some teachers may feel they do not know
how to talk about important issues that arise in
political situations (e.g., racism, classism, politics of
language, history of mathematics). Learning the kind
of language practices that encourage dialogue and
joint problem solving rather than conflict or
defensiveness is important in this endeavor. See for
example, Gutiérrez (2014) for a more extensive
discussion of the types of phrases and language
strategies that are useful in Creative Insubordination.
And, finally, some teachers may view these practices
to be the work of assertive, charismatic, or more
veteran teachers. Yet, teachers with very different
personalities and even pre-service teachers have
successfully used these strategies (Gregson &
Bradley-Harris, 2015; Gutierrez, 2013a, b; 2015c).
Some teachers may feel this kind of work seems too
battle-oriented or the work of “trouble makers.”
However, with public education, teacher education,
and teachers all under attack, strategies for Creative
Insubordination are often necessary to reclaim the
profession. Moreover, these strategies are only a
small list of the kinds of things teachers can do. All of
us need to find ways of owning this work and putting
our own mark on it.
Learning about these strategies might make us want
to start a dialogue with members of our math
department, team, or group of like-minded teachers
across our district or city. Here’s one activity to try on
a regular basis to help rehearse for the political nature
of mathematics teaching. It is called, “In My Shoes”
(Gutiérrez, Gerardo, & Vargas, in preparation). In it,
one teacher presents a scenario they have faced and
others respond with questions and eventually what
they might do if they had been in the presenter’s
shoes. In the beginning, the presenter simply states
the scenario they faced without giving details about
what, if anything, they did in the situation. If the
presenter is still able to influence the outcomes of the
event, then it would be good to have the presenter
practice saying/doing what they would like. This
might be the case for a controversial policy that will
be discussed at an upcoming meeting or a disturbing
comment that was made by a student or colleague. If
the scenario is one where the window of action has
already passed or where the individual was happy
with how she responded, we might have another
individual in the group take on the role of the teacher
during role play. Others in the group can then serve
as devil’s advocates by responding in ways that do not
simply go along with the teacher’s suggestions. In
these situations, others in the group should practice
trying to come up with ways to stump the teacher. For
example, if one of us has faced a colleague who has
deficit views about particular kinds of students, we
might practice using Counter with Evidence or Press
for Explanation while others in the group might try to
continue to show how those examples are simply
exception cases. With role plays we get the chance to
Teaching for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics
Vol. 7, No. 1, Summer 2016
Mathematics Education: Through the Lens of Social Justice
practice saying what we think we would do. In my
interactions with teachers, it can be easy to offer
advice or summarize what we might do in a given
situation. But, having the words come out of our
mouths and feeling how nervous we are or how much
we did not anticipate the kind of response we are
receiving is completely different. Creative
Insubordination requires that we think like a chess
player. That is, we cannot just think of our first move;
we need to be thinking of all of the successive moves.
“If I do/say this, what are they likely to do/say in
response? And then, what is my next move?” Role
plays and discussions with like-minded individuals
can go a long way towards helping us anticipate the
kinds of stumbling blocks we might hit and can
further engrain our resolve to say/do something about
the situation, either this time or the next.
Lessons Learned
In choosing to use Creative Insubordination, we are
refusing the status quo when it is not in the best
interest of our students. This means questioning some
of the typical norms in mathematics teaching and
learning. An important step in this work is first
deconstructing what is going on around us, making
the “normal” seem abnormal. For example, do we
notice that the students in our calculus classes do not
represent the demographics of our school? Only then
can we imagine and plan for a different possible
future where that representation is present.
Teaching mathematics involves negotiating one’s
practice with colleagues, parents, administrators,
students, and at times, community members.
Choosing to refuse the status quo is an important
option for maintaining our sense of morals, especially
given the fact that we will never please all of the
aforementioned constituents at the same time.
Having political clarity on why we are doing the
things we do is important (Beauboeuf-Lafontant,
I have learned a number of things in helping
mathematics teachers develop their Creative
Insubordination practices in our current context of
high stakes education. First, political knowledge for
teaching, including understanding that all decisions
are political acts, is as critical as other forms of
knowledge that are normally touted as important for
teachers to develop (e.g., Pedagogical Content
Knowledge, Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching).
Second, Creative Insubordination recognizes that
teaching involves training for a marathon, not a sprint.
That is, the work of teaching and its effects on
students must be developed over time and measured
over years, not days. So, focusing on only one or a
few things and doing them well is more likely to keep
us attentive to the needs of our particular students and
our working context and also keep us from burning
out on teaching.
For many of the teachers I have worked with, acts of
Creative Insubordination are critical for advocating
for marginalized students such as emergent
bilinguals, students who are Latin@, Black,
American Indian, or historically looted because the
system is not set up to protect them. However,
Creative Insubordination is applicable to all students
and is best done as a collaborative and
intergenerational approach. That is, when teachers
come together in powerful collectives; we can share
the workload; buffer each other from attack; inform
others of our experiences so individual teachers do
not need to reinvent the wheel; and serve as a support
network and a reminder for the kind of ethical work
that is important in our profession. In considering the
kinds of risks this work requires and the rationales
that effective teachers use to support such risk taking,
they seem to be following the saying, “We act
ourselves into new ways of thinking, not the reverse.”
That is, much of this work requires deconstruction
(unpacking the micro and macro issues that may be
hidden in dominant practices) and deep reflection
(knowing which principles we stand for). But more
importantly, Creative Insubordination requires action
on the part of teachers. Our actions, often leaps of
faith, can lead to changes in how we think about a
given situation in teaching. Luckily, learning how to
advocate for our students can help us better advocate
for ourselves (e.g., the right to have teacher
collaboratives or common planning time). As
teachers, we need to continue to look ourselves in the
mirror each day and ask, “Am I doing what I said I
would do in education when I entered this profession?
And, if not, what am I planning to do about that?”
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... We have concluded that the fields of science education and science teacher education with/for EBLs have ignored the elephant in the room when attending only to instructional experiences and pedagogical practices (e.g., language-content integration) with limited or cursory attention to the political literacy and structural awareness of preservice teachers with whom we work (e.g., relationships between restrictions on immigration and the hiring of bilingual teachers, exclusion of EBLs from advanced coursework through tracking, high stakes accountability measures that marginalize science coursework, etc.) (López, 2017;Morales-Doyle et al., 2020;Rodriguez, 2019). Just like cursory or isolated attention to issues of language development and scaffolding is insufficient to prepare science teachers for high-quality instruction with EBLs, cursory or isolated attention to issues of systemic inequity is insufficient to prepare critically aware teachers who can support EBL students' overall opportunities to learn science (Callahan et al., 2020;Gutiérrez, 2016;López, 2017;Morales-Doyle et al., 2020). ...
... We have demonstrated the diverse ways in which novice teachers of EBLs manage tensions they experience when the actual realities of teaching prevent them from fully practicing or implementing pedagogical approaches they have learned to be most effective for students in multilingual science classrooms. Our findings resonate with historical tensions identified in other recent studies in science teacher education (Braaten & Sheth, 2017;Buxton et al., 2015;Gutiérrez & Calabrese Barton, 2015;Rodriguez, 2015) and beyond (Achinstein & Ogawa, 2006;Crawford-Garrett, 2017Gutiérrez, 2016;Loh & Hu, 2014). Though all six novice teachers in our study engaged in some form of tension management, some teachers did so to avoid praxis crisis, while others engaged with it. ...
... We strongly emphasize the critically aware community of practitioners aspect, as we noticed all of the teachers in the study, regardless of their discursive positioning, tended to view their work as highly individualized, which we identify (and take up elsewhere) as toxic individualism. We must be honest and transparent with preservice teachers about the fact that these fundamental changes are not easy to achieve but require engagement with policymakers, participation in social movements, and organizing for labor rights, in addition to everyday acts of subversion and resistance (Anyon, 2014;Cochran-Smith et al., 2015;Gutiérrez, 2016;Morales-Doyle et al., 2020;Williams & Tolbert, 2021). Science teacher education must firmly commit to the project of educating itself as it simultaneously mobilizes a socially and politically conscious teacher workforce (McLaren & Baltodano, 2000;Tolbert & Bazzul, 2017;Torres-Olave & Bravo González, 2021;Verma et al., 2022). ...
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In this study, we explore how preservice secondary science teachers articulated their agency and structural awareness within racist–nativist policy and schooling environments that limit emergent bilingual students' opportunities to learn science. Our praxis‐oriented analysis led us to characterize novice teacher participants' discursive positionings within this structure–agency dialectic—that is, what it means to teach science well with emergent bilingual learners in the context of structural exclusions—as deficit, distancing, or discerning. We then discuss how these preservice teacher positionings were a function of tension management for working within the structure–agency dialectic. In our discussion, we refer to this phenomenon as praxis crisis , that is, the disjuncture between theory and practice that occurs as teachers negotiate the real and perceived constraints of their work. We consider how the concept of praxis crisis that emerged from our work can be a critical dialogic tool for transformative learning in science teacher education research and practice, and how a praxis‐oriented methodological approach can support more expansive and nuanced understandings of teacher learning.
... Finally, this study contributes to a body of literature examining teacher resistance to inequitable or otherwise misaligned areas of organisational practice (Carlone and Kimmel 2010, Gutiérrez 2016, Rivera Maulucci et al. 2015, Shi 2020. These studies have found that teachers who learn more student-centred, equitable ways of teaching sometimes need to find ways to navigate or resist organisational norms, often with the support of PD providers. ...
... These studies have found that teachers who learn more student-centred, equitable ways of teaching sometimes need to find ways to navigate or resist organisational norms, often with the support of PD providers. Similar findings in the current study indicate that teacher acts of 'creative insubordination' (Gutiérrez 2016) are a fruitful area of future research, especially in elementary science education (Carlone and Kimmel 2010). ...
... The suite of tools captures various elements of political knowledge and has multiple entry points. The tools (named in parentheses) help TCs: (1) identify aspects of equity in their workspaces (How Would You Classify It?) based upon four dimensions [32,33]; (2) consider how certain scenarios might feel riskier to deal with than others (Difficulty Sort); (3) reflect on how some scenarios feel similar and might lead to general approaches for student advocacy (Similarity Sort); and (4) prepare for and rehearse the kinds of politics they might face in teaching so that they can be strategic in their actions (Mapping and Rehearsal), which might require creative insubordination [34,35]. Using the tools places TCs in somewhat uncomfortable spaces, as they need to reflect on their identities, the kinds of microaggressions that have repeatedly harmed students (and perhaps themselves), and the knowings (e.g., mathematics, pedagogy, students, politics) they carry or with which they are familiar. ...
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Although the field of mathematics education has made gains in centering the need for justice-oriented approaches and antiracist teaching practices in teacher education, much of this work remains in its infancy. Moreover, research focused on this area highlights teacher candidates’ knowledge and dispositions and often ignores the role of the mathematics teacher educators facilitating the process. We contend that mathematics teacher educators must pay more attention to how intersectional identities, contexts, Mirror Tests, and principles of Rehumanizing Mathematics manifest in teacher education to better understand how teacher candidates develop political knowledge in teaching mathematics. To this end, we introduce a framework of considerations, which we call a compass, that identifies four dimensions (or strands) and offers guiding questions for mathematics teacher educators to consider. We offer examples from a multi-site research study to illuminate each dimension and build the case for the necessity of braiding the four strands together as we engage in this line of work. Implications for practice and future research are discussed.
... Researchers-facilitators typically invoked the research frameworks. Patty introduced the Rees team with the notion of creative insubordination (Gutiérrez, 2016); Lani introduced the Rees team to monitoring routines and pulled from her laptop visual monitoring traces (Ehrenfeld & Horn, 2020); And Nadav referenced 5 Practices (Stein et al., 2008) in a conversation with the Noether team. As illustrated in the previous section about the PDO, teachers also invoked the TRU framework (Schoenfeld et al., 2020) in several cases. ...
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Educational researchers widely acknowledge the promises and impediments of teachers’ collaborative sensemaking, illuminating the need to recognize additional resources that are salient for teachers within professional interactions. In line with this overarching goal, this study explores the role of mathematics teachers' previous professional experiences in their collaborative sensemaking. Theoretically, it is rooted in ecological theories of learning, highlighting that learning is always shaped by an interconnected set of environments. Empirically, it builds on data from a research–practice partnership with a professional development (PD) organization, where we used classroom video to support secondary mathematics teachers' teams in improving their practice. The analysis first portrays two video-based conversations to illustrate the potential of inviting and building on teachers’ previous experiences and resources to support their collaborative reasoning. Then, it looks across nine video-based conversations of the same two teams and systematically describes experiences and resources that teachers spontaneously reference through six categories: PD workshops, conferences, PD organizations, online resources, research and policy, and curricula. These categories provide a framework for designers and facilitators who want to take seriously the practice of acknowledging that teacher learning happens through a complex web of learning experiences. The study brings forth the affordances of taking a learning ecology perspective on teacher collaborative sensemaking as professional development (CSPD) and provides guidance for designing, facilitating, and analyzing CSPD conversations in ways that center on teachers’ prior knowledge and experiences.
... Wager and Stinson's book [15] is a bit older and a more extensive read, but it is a great resource for the history of SJM and related pedagogies and examples of many different educators sharing their thoughts and experiences related to teaching SJM. For educators who work in institutions or states where social justice teaching is not supported, I recommend Gutiérrez's article [5] on creative insubordination, which has helpful, concrete strategies for mathematics instructors trying to support their students in ways that are not endorsed by the institutions in which they work. ...
... Furthermore, even if teachers do develop political clarity, highlights how operating with political clarity could lead to the teachers facing obstacles in the school and the classroom. As such, teachers will need to find ways to subvert the system in their quest to support their minoritized and marginalized students in engaging in high level mathematics and bringing their whole selves to the mathematics classroom (Gutiérrez, 2016). To further complicate matters, given that it is mathematics, PSTs tend to believe that it is neutral and universal . ...
This study examines the beliefs of 33 preservice teachers (PSTs) from the U.S. have about using different types of real-world contexts in the mathematics classroom. Qualitative data about the participants' reactions to specially designed word problems that varied in contexts from 'neutral' to controversial were collected. A thematic analysis of the responses indicated that they could be arranged into three typologies on a continuum based on their openness towards the use of controversial issues in the mathematics classroom. Drawing on the analysis of PSTs' responses and the literature, a fourth typology was inferred. The typologies can be useful to teacher educators and education programs as they seek to prepare PSTs to work with increasingly diverse students in their future mathematics classes. The study also highlights the potential of using word problems as a tool to understand PSTs' beliefs.
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This book provides a fresh perspective on recent debates around integrating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) education in early childhood. The book offers inspiration and practical advice for educators and researchers. It suggests concrete ways to engage young children in STEAM learning activities and promote their development. With contributions from international experts, the book discusses how to develop age-appropriate STEAM learning activities for young children. Divided into four parts, the book covers a wide range of topics, including the perceptions and practices of STEAM education among early childhood teachers in different countries, the use of new pedagogies and technologies to promote equitable and accessible STEAM education, the role of teacher education and policy in reducing inequality in STEAM education, and how early STEAM education can promote social change and achieve sustainable development goals. The book highlights the importance of STEAM education in providing young children with the necessary skills to create a more sustainable and equitable world. Overall, this book provides an important contribution to help critique and improve how early childhood educators view and practice STEAM education across cultures. It proposes ideas for achieving sustainable development goals through high-quality early STEAM education. The book appeals to early childhood educators and researchers, as it draws on cross-cultural viewpoints to critically examine how teachers understand and implement STEAM education across different cultures along with exploring how cultural values and goals shape early STEAM education.
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In this manuscript, I reflect on the redesign of my graduate elementary mathematics methods course—a redesign necessitated by the pandemic and the shift to online learning that created an opportunity to make equity and antiracism central to the course. I describe my earlier, unsuccessful attempt to add equity as a course topic—an “additive approach” to antiracist pedagogy (Kishimoto, 2018). I then reflect on my Fall 2020 iteration of the course, in which changes to course goals, content, and assessments allowed for an integrated approach to antiracism and equity, working towards TODOS’ (2020a) call to prioritize antiracism in mathematics teaching and learning.
The authors began this work with the understandings that (a) there is no “neutral” when it comes to the teaching of mathematics, and (b) mathematics teacher educators need to do something to help produce teachers of mathematics that develop students’ relationships with mathematics and push against the inequities that exist both within and outside of the classrooms in which they will teach. In response, the authors created, deployed, and studied a learning module in an attempt to enact antiracist mathematics teacher education. The learning module activities, the findings about the learning from the prospective teachers who engaged in the module, and messages for mathematics teacher educators who want to engage in this work are shared.
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This article articulates how mathematics (e.g., what they are, how they can be used, who they are by and for, who is able to do and understand them) are a social construct, just like racial or gender identities are social constructs. The authors describe how Political Conocimiento in Teaching Mathematics-a relational knowing that involves the entanglement of mathematics, pedagogies, students, and politics-can be used as a lens to reveal narratives about mathematics re(told) through stories (e.g., "Mathematics is culture-free, objective, and universal"). Drawing on their work with teachers, the authors offer an example scenario/activity and a teacher discussion that unpacks where mathematical stories are being told, from a dominant perspective, as well as how focusing on healthier narratives can help teachers work toward liberatory futures. Implications for teaching, teacher education, and future research are described.
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In an era of high stakes testing and common core standards, public education, and teachers everywhere, are under attack. Teachers across the nation are working hard to: develop deep and flexible knowledge of their field; develop meaningful relationships with their students; and draw upon students’ linguistic and cultural knowledge as they develop and implement lessons. Yet, that may not be enough. Those teachers who cannot skillfully negotiate the politics of language, racism, and testing cannot adequately support their students to learn. Nowhere is this truer than in the mathematics classroom, where teaching is always a political endeavor. This research commentary explores how all mathematics teaching is political and provides some examples of teachers using creative insubordination in their everyday work.
The concept of emotional resistance is often used to describe student reluctance to grapple with difficult facts regarding inequity and injustice, especially if the students themselves are implicated in these facts by way of their privilege or advantage. Many successful students are reluctant to acknowledge how they are tacitly invested in a governing hegemonic system that has afforded them particular socio-cultural and economic status. Dorsey (2002), for instance, follows her largely white students' resistance to anti-racist pedagogy through a series of stages - discovery, dismay, denial, and dismissal - all of which indicate their reluctance to realize how their own positioning is enabled through hegemonic systems of oppression. Similarly, Boler and Zembylas (2003) note that students often refuse to recognize "race/ethnicity" differences as significant contributing factors of social capital, arguing for a benign tolerance of difference or denying difference as a significant factor.
This article describes teachers' collective work aimed at learning to teach mathematics for social justice. Teacher interviews, discussions, lessons, and written reflections were analyzed using grounded theory methodology, and teachers' conversations were examined concerning the relationship between mathematical goals and social justice goals. Analysis revealed that early tensions arose around balancing these goals, that teachers focused more attention on the social justice component, and that the instantiation of these goals in practice proved difficult.
Big-city school systems have been described as rigid, ponderous, hierarchical bureaucracies. They have also been called loosely coupled systems virtually out of control. Which are they-tight or loose? A study of Chicago principals reveals that the system does indeed exert powerful hierarchical control, but it does so not through a muscular apparatus of directives but rather through a not-so-subtle enforcement of loyalties, values, and unspoken expectations.
The purpose of this article is to examine culturally relevant teaching as a political pedagogy and a contemporary manifestation of what was considered "good" teaching in many African American communities served by black segregated schools. Through examining several ethnographies and autobiographical accounts of segregated schools that were valued by black students and families, I assert that the "good" of these institutions hinged not simply on the cultural similarities between teachers and students, but more importantly on the "political clarity" of the teachers. That is, these educators recognized the existence of oppression in their students' lives and sought to use their personal, professional, and social power to encourage children to understand and undermine their subordination. I also contend that because they use their knowledge of society 's inequities and their influence to empower their marginalized students, the pedagogy of contemporary culturally relevant teachers might be more accurately called "politically relevant teaching. " I conclude the article by discussing how recognizing the political and historical dimensions of culturally relevant teaching may broaden its application, as issues of racism and social injustice are relevant to all Americans and not only to people of color.
Interactive mathematics program, Year 1
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Grit: The power of passion and perseverance
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