October 31, 2018

Language to Describe Families #MTBoS #Demographics

We recently had some great conversations on twitter about the lack of racial diversity in the #MTBoS and the fact that this partially stems from the fact that people who tweet with the #MTBoS talk almost entirely about math without addressing equity. Quite a few people said, “But I can’t talk about equity on twitter, it’s too public!” I have a few thoughts on that, but I’m going to focus on just one today. Part of addressing equity is realizing that everyone’s teaching situation is different. So I’m inviting people to blog and tweet using both #MTBoS and #Demographics. Share something about your context. Then share something you do that might be different from someone teaching at a school with a different population.

I taught for 10 years at two schools. Both in Massachusetts. Both small cities. Both with large immigrant populations. One was 90% Latinx, the other one 50% Latinx with more racial diversity in the remaining 50%. Both had lots of kids in poverty. Both had lots of kids living with single parents or otherwise non-traditional households. This last detail is the focus of today’s post.

Early on in teaching I realized that lots of my students lived with just their mom. So instead of saying, “Can you ask your parents?” I changed my default to, “Can you ask your mom?” In my head this made sense because kids who live with both parents could ask their mom, as could kids who lived with just their mom. Looking back I think about how this reinforces women as the primary parent responsible for the kids. Not cool! I also knew some kids didn’t live with their mom, and while I generally my kids well enough that I would adjust, still not cool as a default. Especially when I accidentally asked a kid who didn’t live with his mom to have his mom do something and he got really upset. That made me stop and think about the language I was using. I hope this post catches you before you encounter a kid who will get really upset, and make you think about the kids who might be kinda upset when you talk about mom, dad, or parents.

So what’s a better alternative? “An adult you live with” is a solid choice when you’re addressing the whole class. Knowing each of your students well enough to know who they live with is ideal. I’ve taught kids who lived with one parent, two parents (which might mean two moms or two dads), an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, an older sibling, a foster family, and lots of combinations of these options. When you’re addressing letters home, “parent/guardian” is a good standby. To make that work all the way through the letter (and avoiding gendered language as a bonus), calling the kids “your student” is a good alternative to “your child” or “your son/daughter.”

I’m so excited to be working somewhere that has already thought about these things! One item on the list of ways we avoid bias in the IM curriculum is by explicitly not assuming kids live with their parents. So we estimate audience members in the auditorium, not parents. The family support materials also reference “your student,” not to mention they’re called family support materials, with no limitation on who can be defined as family!

What are some of the demographics of your classroom? What choices have you made to adjust for your unique population? Share them with #MTBoS #Demographics.

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