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Brilliant, Better, Best: Teaching to Affirm a Positive Racial Mathematics Identity

Marlene Grayer-Chisulo, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This action research offers one African American middle school mathematics teacher’s experience teaching to the content standards and supplementing the curriculum to unify and affirm her Black students’ racial and mathematics confidence in a predominately White, Midwestern urban school. The “gaps” between the educational results of White and Black student populations in the U.S. are well documented and so are many strategies to close them, such as culturally responsive teaching, teaching for social justice, and implementing rigorous standards, but these leave intact the main goal of having Black students on par with White students. Here, asserting that Black students are brilliant in their own right, this study does not attempt to equalize White and Black student performance. With her classroom motto, “Know that you are Brilliant, so give your Best daily and watch your best get Better”, the author encouraged critical thinking and a growth mindset with her students while presenting multiple examples of Black excellence in both STEM and youth entrepreneurship.Though the COVID19 pandemic brought an early end to in-person school and this research project, she observed that many of her Black students had previous negative mathematics experiences, racialized tensions with some teachers, and distrust in school. However, she also found that students who would have ‘failed’ from ‘traditional’ instructional practices could be reached when given ‘extra’ time and effort outside of class to have opportunities of success with the mathematics content and positive teacher-student interactions. If ‘extra’ works, as found here, but also taxes teachers, how can ‘extra’ become the normal practice and policy so that it is not dependent on teachers’ above-and-beyond effort, but is instead a normal feature that all students can expect? This locates the problem with the system not the student.As an important additional theme, the study reveals tensions the teacher experienced being one of few Black faculty. This study leaves open the door for more research into supporting teachers of color in institutions where they are the minority.

Subject Area

Mathematics education|Multicultural Education|Middle School education

Recommended Citation

Grayer-Chisulo, Marlene, "Brilliant, Better, Best: Teaching to Affirm a Positive Racial Mathematics Identity" (2021). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI28713556.