Respectful Observation in Education

This summer, at Twitter Math Camp, a veteran participant asked me with a toothy smile and expectant eyes, “Wouldn’t it be neat if you did a presentation in Spanish to show us how challenging it is to learn a different language?” No, I did not want to present in Spanish to a group of teachers who did not speak Spanish to prove a point that has exactly zero to do with the space Dual Language teachers make for young mathematicians.


Yes, this person and I are in the same field but we have different lenses, different challenges, different successes we’re striving for. Instead of tokenizing the work that our colleagues do within education, I propose taking the stance of a respectful observer. We do not need more showmanship in education. We’ve already got edu-celeb pirates and myriad Insta-teachers.


When we consider risk-taking, students in dual language classrooms are tasked with taking on so much socially, linguistically, and mathematically. For Latinx emergent bilinguals and children who do not speak Spanish at home, the socioemotional and academic language required to agree, disagree agreeably, build upon conjectures of classmates, or respectfully critique a peer’s reasoning is tremendously complex. Talking through curiosity is a challenge even for self-actualized adults. We ask children to do this in two languages. A performative presentation for non-Spanish speakers would diminish the meaningful work of dual language teachers and students.


So what does this mean for me as a dual language educator and advocate for all children? What does it mean as a teacher of mathematics? What am I supposed to do when colleagues misunderstand the work I’m doing? How can I partner with colleagues who are not aware of the heavy history of multilingual education in the U.S.?


For now, I’ve been submitting proposals to conferences with the intent of presenting in Spanish for Dual Language teachers and students. Many of my proposals are not accepted… and I get it. Dual Language conferences often focus on literacy or take a more traditional approach through a narrow lens of teaching vocabulary. Vocabulary is their jam – mathematics equity and curiosity – not so much. On the other hand, most mathematics conferences are not necessarily preoccupied with supporting Dual Language teachers nor are they designed for the benefit of Dual Language learners. We are not not invited, but the attendees are overwhelmingly young, white females who do not teach in Dual Language programs. Participants at expensive conferences may not know how to be respectful observers of a context that is not their own. So this leaves teachers like me in a bit of a quandary. I’m wondering if these conferences, with themes of empowerment and amplifying student voice and equity and inclusion and all those other chest-thumping words in education, can hold a space for Dual Language educators interested in mathematics. Can conferences take a risk on us? Can the world benefit from a bit more respectful observation in all fields? I’m hopeful.


Surely my sessions at conferences will not snuff out the dumpster fire of our times, but there are many people, organizations, and schools doing good work, big work around language-learning, culturally responsive pedagogy, and mathematics. Surely if more of us have spaces to come together and observe each other’s worlds, something full of possibility will evolve for ALL educators and students.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s