Thursday, February 23, 2012

How to Best Support My Minority Students

This term, I am teaching two black students. Both are in different classes and almost assuredly, I can say that both of them are struggling the most in their respective sections. There is only one week left in the term before finals and I do not know if I have either of them in my classes next term.

My modus operandi in the classroom with these two students is to not put them on trial- to not make them speak when they do not offer but put them to the top of the list of sharing out when they want. In fear of putting them on the spot, having them say something wrong and then feeling like they have somehow let down their race because of they were not right is what motivated me. Research says that when a minority group is asked to perform in a mixed setting, and this applies to females in the mathematics classroom as well as non-Asian race minorities, they will perform worse because they are worried about proving the stereotype for their group. By not putting people for whom I think suffer from this on the spot, I have felt that I am being kind to their needs.

But maybe in doing this, what I have done is hurt them and everyone else in the room. I realized I am also reluctant to cold call females as well. In not giving them a safe environment to challenge this belief in themselves (and my own assumption in their feelings and actions) have I been holding them back from growing to a new level? Could my lack of verbal encouragement in front of the class make these students feel as though I am neglecting them instead of showing support, as I have been hoping to do? Maybe students in these categories feel afraid to speak up and what they need is someone asking them to share, to speak up, so that they can feel as though they are worthy part of the classroom community.

I only have one week left with these two students this term. I will not leave things as they are, but I will talk to my students and see what they think of all of this. There is not enough time for me to make right any wrongs I have done to them and all the students that have passed through my classroom until this point. But there is enough time for me to change for all the rest of the students that will pass through my door. 


  1. Hi, Ms. Ashton,

    Reaching inner city students has long been a passion of mine.

    I came across your blog via David Wees, and as a fellow mathematics educator I thought you might be able to help in spreading the word about an educational TV show for preteens (focusing specifically on reaching inner city students) about math that we're putting together. "The Number Hunter" is a cross between Bill Nye The Science Guy and The Crocodile Hunter -- bringing math to children in an innovative, adventurous way. I’d really appreciate your help in getting the word out about the project.

    I studied math education at Jacksonville University and the University of Florida. It became clear to me during my studies why we’re failing at teaching kids math. We're teaching it all wrong! Bill Nye taught kids that science is FUN. He showed them the EXPLOSIONS first and then the kids went to school to learn WHY things exploded. Kids learn about dinosaurs and amoeba and weird ocean life to make them go “wow”. But what about math? You probably remember the dreaded worksheets. Ugh.

    I’m sure you know math is much more exciting than people think. Fractal Geometry was used to create “Star Wars” backdrops, binary code was invented in Africa, The Great Pyramids and The Mona Lisa, wouldn’t exist without geometry.
    Our concept is to create an exciting, web-based TV show that’s both fun and educational.

    If you could consider posting about the project on your blog, I’d very much appreciate it. Also, if you'd be interested in link exchanging (either on The Number Hunter site, which is in development, or on which is a well-established site with 300,000 page views a month) please shoot me an email. We're also always looking for input and ideas from other math educators!

    Thanks in advance for your help,


  2. I am a student research assistant at Montana Tech of the University of Montana. Technology has created exciting ways to connect with others and form professional learning networks. As a part of an active member of a social media community made up of teachers, I wanted to contact you to ask you to participate in a study our research group is conducting.

    Research shows that face-to-face professional networks provide much needed professional and personal support to teachers. You and the community you belong to are providing these types of support using social media. We are interested in learning more about your experiences using social media to connect with other teachers and your opinions about online professional networks.

    The purpose of our study is to learn how professional learning networks created through social media are similar or different than face-to-face networks and what you feel are advantages of using social media to connect with other teachers. Our hope is that the results of this study will inform how professional networks for teachers are designed in the future. If you are interested in participating, please send an email to me at I will send you a link to a short online survey and will set up time for a short skype interview.

    If you have any questions you would like to ask about the study, please do not hesitate to contact me.


    Kaitlyn Rudy
    Research Assistant
    Department of Mathematical Sciences
    Montana Tech of the University of Montana