Mathematics teacher educators wear many hats and assume many responsibilities. Recent events have caused me to question where the boundaries of our responsibilities begin and end. Consider the recent school shooting tragedies. These events are so horrific that thinking about them is difficult, but many within our educational establishment are grappling with what might be done so that we no longer experience the pain and sorrow of this violence. If mathematics teacher educators share responsibility for trying to solve this problem, will doing so compromise our effectiveness at addressing the many other challenges that we have taken on, challenges that few outside of our mathematics teacher education community have the skills to address?
Responsibility is a charged word because it is associated with such terms as accountability, blame, and legal obligation. No one is turning to the mathematics education community for answers to school shootings, and I don’t expect anyone will. And yet, we are part of the educational establishment. We may not be responsible, but are we able to respond? And if so, how?
The work of mathematics teacher educators might be thought of as supporting not only the teaching and learning of mathematics, but the broader goals valued by society. For example, many students have viewed mathematics as formal, cold, and disconnected from their lives. When students experience mathematics in such a way that it is not separate from the vast human condition, but instead is a central and critical ingredient in it, we take a step toward humanizing mathematics. When we promote the assumption that all students are able to learn and enjoy mathematics and we help teachers internalize this assumption and develop the practices that support its enactment, we are taking another step toward humanizing mathematics.
Beliefs about what mathematics is or who can learn mathematics serve as a foundation, but this philosophical position alone will not humanize mathematics for our students. Mathematics teacher educators must continue to carry out the important work, both research and practice, that helps us extend this noble philosophical position into practice. But one size will not fit all, and only as we develop a deeper understanding of how to help specific students in particular contexts effectively learn particular mathematics will we be able to support teachers as they enhance their skills at teaching all students. This work must be grounded in our understanding of mathematics, students, teachers, teaching, and schools, a space in which mathematics teacher educators find themselves uniquely prepared to work.
To summarize, school shootings are happening and they are awful. All of us are deeply concerned about these tragedies. Furthermore, when we look at these events through our mathematics teacher education lens, the horror and tragedy still overwhelms anything else we might see. Yet we realize that changing our mathematics instruction will not end these violent events. As such, there may be little we can do directly, as mathematics teacher educators, to curb the frequency of school shootings in the United States. Still, we can each ask ourselves, “In what ways am I being responsive in my work as a mathematics teacher educator to the current climate?” Is it within our power and responsibility to contribute to creating classrooms that are encouraging and conducive to learning mathematics for all students? And, might this, in itself, help create safer space for our students?