Over the past year, we’ve had many conversations with math educator of two decades Georgina Rivera about the importance of creating equity in math classrooms and the role instructional materials play in incorporating students’ lived experiences into mathematics learning.
Georgina recently shared her experiences growing up as a multilingual learner when she rarely had access to instructional materials that reflected her experiences and culture or offered multiple ways to access learning.
In a new video, you can learn more about her story and about how her time as a student shaped the teacher she ultimately became—one who strives to ensure all students have the resources they need to learn, grow, and thrive.
I remember being told in sixth grade that when you go to the junior high school that you would be put into an accelerated or honors math class. And I remember being really happy about that.
I could probably draw you an exact picture of what my classroom looked like. And I could tell you exactly my teacher’s name and where I sat in the class, because it totally changed the way that I felt about myself as a person.
My vocabulary wasn’t there in terms of background knowledge, because my experiences were the experiences that I had with my family, and they weren’t always the experiences that are found in many textbooks.
The materials were very teacher centered, it wasn’t really built around multiple representations. It wasn’t built around centering student voices.
I could see pages of just problems and numbers, but not really connected to anything, right? Because I couldn’t access math the way that it was being taught, I started doing poorly.
And I remember I would look at the teacher and I would think, does she even know me? Does she see me? Am I seen? I felt invisible. I would ask for help, but then it just didn’t seem to come in a way that I could access it.
I felt like if I can’t get this right, then there might be something wrong with me as a learner, or they don’t see me as smart, or they don’t see me or my ideas as valuable.
I call it dimming, I started to dim. I probably stayed dim all throughout school because I just wasn’t sure if I really belonged anywhere. And from that year forward, I wasn’t able to access any higher levels of mathematics.
Math is one of those subjects that are gatekeepers, especially for students of color, students that are multilingual, it changes the quality of people’s life. That’s really why I wanted to be a teacher. And it really is the why behind the work that I do.
I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to be the teacher that I needed. Materials play an important role. All students are math language learners. Really good curricular programs have a vision, they look at contexts that are different, they allow for multiple representations.
And so I want programs to really look at multilingual learners as every other learner in the classroom and say, when you do this, you’re really helping everyone.
Representation matters. Like even if I show up in a book, how do I show up? Do I show up as a stereotype? Or do I show up as an intellectual?
That’s really important for all of our students to see themselves positioned in ways where they’re knowledgeable, and also showing up in ways that they’re part of the conversation.
As soon as you have a program and students can take the lead and ask questions, you start to see them come free. They don’t have to dim anymore and they can be themselves.
I wanted to be seen, so I see students. I wanted access, so I provide access. I wanted to be celebrated, so I celebrate. I wanted students to have access to math at high levels, and so I strive for that. I decided, let me go on this journey, and take what felt powerless and hurt and I’m going to turn it into hope.