Teacherly Response-ability: A Relational Ethics in Mathematics Education
Chen, Grace A.
Researchers have argued that students’ experience of mathematics education—especially students from historically marginalized backgrounds—is often characterized by a violence that teaches students that they are not mathematical and that mathematics is not for them. In this context, what is the “right relation” for mathematics teachers to have: with their students, themselves, and the enterprise of mathematics education? This dissertation describes two veteran mathematics teachers’ ethical stances on relational work. I draw on feminist new materialist theories and poststructural methodologies to interpret ethnographic data collected from one school year of observing how these teachers teach, collaborate, sensemake, interrogate, and interact. In the spirit of Barad’s (2007) diffraction, I look for patterns of difference that make a difference between these focal teachers’ ethical stances on relational work and the claims made by common notions of ambitious and culturally responsive mathematics teaching. I find that the focal teachers’ ethical stances challenge taken-for-granted ideas about getting to know students as a foundation for building relationships, setting and reinforcing equitable norms for students’ mathematical and social participation, and preparing students for the future as a means for justice. These patterns of difference call attention to how teachers can navigate their institutional power and interpret and invite students’ agency differently. Consequently, I argue that an ethics of response-ability better accounts for the complex agencies, affects, histories, and contexts in which mathematics education, mathematics teachers, and mathematics students are entangled. As a result, this dissertation recommends more nuanced theorizations of relational work and provides concrete implications for how educators build relationships, nurture classroom climate, and account for individual and structural traumas in mathematics education.