Mathers Gonna Math!
I met Deborah Peart through my work on the Access and Equity Committee for the Florida Council of Teachers of Mathematics (FCTM). She delivered an amazing Keynote at FCTM 2022 conference which inspired me to change my vocabulary! She offers so much to the Math Ed community, read about her journey here.
What brought you to teaching?
I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but my parents wanted me to be a doctor. As a little girl, I played school all year long with my younger siblings and neighborhood friends. At the end of the school year, I volunteered to help clean up because I could pick out the workbooks that weren’t used for “my classroom.”
While I worked at schools almost the entire time I was in college, life chose a different path for me. After a few changes of majors, I graduated with a degree in speech communications and early childhood, but the reality was I couldn’t afford to take a teaching job. I landed a position at The Prudential as a contract specialist. The funny thing is that it wasn’t long before I was designing and leading trainings for the specialist and reviewing their work as a part of the quality control process. And, I taught in the after-school program after work.
Once I became a mom, I knew that I wanted to be involved in their educational journey, for a few years I homeschooled my children and others. Eventually, I taught in the private schools where I wanted them to attend. This was my full circle moment.
What grades and where have you taught?
I have taught preschoolers through fifth graders in the academic arena, but I have also taught yoga and mindfulness all the way through college-aged students and adults. I have taught in NY, GA, and CT. During the school year, I taught in the private sector, and in the summers I taught in summer enrichment programs designed for students who lived in marginalized communities.
What are you passionate about in your work?
I was always a lover of all things literacy. It brought me so much joy to watch students have light bulb moments when learning to read. I have always been passionate about giving students the code and helping them understand the power of reading. I was passionate about leveraging the skills learned while reading to nurture a competency and love of writing. And now, I am passionate about helping everyone who will listen make connections between literacy and mathematics. My hope is that we will build a community of readers, writers, and mathers.
What challenges have you faced as a teacher?
I did not love teaching mathematics. I taught the way I was taught with a little bit of “sauce on it.” I typically followed the curriculum without interrogating it and making it my own. This was because I didn’t have the same level of enthusiasm for teaching mathematics as I did for teaching everything else.
What challenges have you faced as a learner, both child and adult?
I LOVE learning. If learning could be a full-time career, I would be set. Lol Most often, I experienced being overlooked or shut down. When I asked questions the teacher couldn’t answer, I was called sassy, rude, or disrespectful no matter how respectfully I asked. Even as an adult, it sometimes appears that I am invisible. The things I said were suddenly appreciated more deeply when someone who didn’t look like me revoiced them. As a result, I do a lot of independent study. I read, listen to podcasts, enroll in courses, and join doctorate programs. Nothing gets in the way of my learning, but sometimes I don’t experience it within a community. As a child, I had to pretend I wasn’t smart to fit in sometimes. As an adult, I do my best to share the knowledge I have in spaces where it will be received.
What resources and experiences were critical for you to be where you are now?
A pivotal moment for me was when I took a math methods course as my final elective for my Masters in Educational Studies with a concentration in literacy. That sparked something in me because I finally had my questions answered and I knew that I wanted children to understand the why before the how in math class. It wasn’t long before I attended my first NCTM conference and learned about Singapore math, which focuses on problem-solving and visual representations for sense-making. Before I knew it, I was back in grad school learning everything I could about how children learn mathematics.
Cognitively Guided Instruction resonated with me because this framework emphasizes teaching mathematics through contexts or stories. I took a course and read everything I could get my hands on. It was the perfect way to connect my love of literacy with my new found love for developing mathematical thinkers.
How did the #mathermovement begin?
The Mather Movement was born out of some frustration around the way mathematics is viewed by the majority of people, and more importantly how this impacts young learners. I am on a mission to rebrand mathematics as something we all need and use in our lives, something that is accessible to all, and something we ALL deserve to enjoy.
Historically mathematics was reserved for the elite and that gatekeeping still happens today. The #mathermovement is about helping people realize that we all have a mathematical mind and just as we are readers and writers, we are all mathers.
Math trauma is real, but we can heal from it. Math anxiety exists for more than half of the population, but we must not normalize divorcing ourselves from mathematics. If we want to have more students going into STEM fields, we need to address this in the early years. And just as we want a literate nation, we should be fighting for a numerate one. First we change the language, and then we work to change practices, mindsets, and beliefs.
If you could wave a magic wand, what would you want fellow teachers to know and understand based on your experience?
I would want fellow teachers to know that we can rewrite our math narratives and rewire our brains to think mathematically. Especially in elementary classrooms, we need teachers doing the work necessary to heal from their traumas, manage their anxiety, and develop positive math identities. This is necessary if we are going to be the mathers our students need us to be. We need to teach them mathematics not only so they can choose STEM careers, but most importantly so they can become problem solvers and use mathematics to make sense of the world.
What do you see as the first steps to becoming a culturally responsive teacher?
The first thing we can do is lean into being responsive to the students who are in the room. Culturally responsive teaching is about helping students become independent thinkers and learners, so they can process information. Learn about your students, who they are outside of school, what communities they live in, what racial groups and ethnicities exist, what languages are spoken at home, what skills and talents their family members have, etc. It is important to honor who students are and recognize the brilliance they already possess that needs to be tapped into and brought to the surface. By providing opportunities for students to see themselves in the curriculum and the classroom, and by exploring culturally relevant contexts, we can support students by creating the conditions in which they can learn and thrive.
What role do you think identity development plays in developing math teaching and learning?
Having a healthy and positive math identity is critical to developing math teaching and learning. And it starts with examining teacher identity. Without the belief that you have the right to be in math class and that you were born with the capability to be a math thinker, learning math concepts will be hard. Our brains are so powerful that we can shut down our ability to think and learn based on the beliefs we have about ourselves and our ability, even if it is based on false information. This is the reason that I developed a mindful approach to mathematics. Students (and teachers) cannot grapple with complex mathematical ideas while experiencing fight or flight. We must address the psychological and emotional reactions that many have to mathematics in order to fully engage in math teaching and learning.
Tell me about #blackwomenrockmath
Black Women Rock Math started out as a hashtag that was meant to be a rally cry for Black Women in math education. Dionne Aminata, Kaneka Turner, and I met when writing the IM K-5 curriculum. That experience illuminated the need for connection and community. We had all had experienced being “the lone unicorn,” the exceptional Black woman. We knew there were others and that they deserved to be seen, heard, and respected as experts in the field. By starting the hashtag, we did find a community of brilliant math educators who were looking for one another. We often celebrate Black mathematicians or Black women in STEM, but rarely highlight the brilliance it takes to understand how children develop mathematical ideas. While it is different from studying mathematics to the highest levels, it is worthy of celebration.
What’s next for you?
I am currently pursuing a doctorate degree in educational program development. My goal is to develop programs to support elementary teachers with developing positive math identities, deepening math content knowledge, and implementing equitable teaching practices. It will take time to recover from the setbacks we have faced in recent years, and I hope to be a part of the solution.