How has race and intersectionality impacted your life?
As a teacher, you have to have an understanding that humanity is the essence of what we do everyday; like, having kids show up as their full selves—who they are. And that includes all of your identifiers: race, religion, gender. Anything that you identify with shows up with you when you walk into a classroom. There is no teaching apart from understanding each child's humanity and your own. Education is a means to liberate. Allowing students to be fully who they are, celebrating that and using it in the classroom as a way to enrich each other's lives, that is what we do as educators.
Why is talking about race in the subject(s) you teach necessary?
It's never too early to start talking about race.
As a third grade teacher, I often have the opportunity to spend time with children when they're developing their own racial identities. It’s never too early to start talking about race. They already think about it. And they understand that there are things that feel good when we talk about race, and things that don't feel good. We get to unpack all of that together, slowly.
I use the Tell Me Who You Are stories. There's just a couple that we use to kind of think about well, in the story, what did race mean to that person? And even though, you know, science will tell you that there's no such thing as race, but socially, we've constructed a race. We think about how some people benefit from race, and some people may not. Understanding that with them, having those conversations early and frequently, patiently, that alone can change young peoples’ lives.
What was it like teaching this lesson or unit plan?
My lesson was a math lesson. We looked at who mathematicians are in our world. The kids had an idea of what they thought a mathematician was. I actually had them describe it, draw it, before we even started talking about it. Some drew a white person, some only men. I then used a TMWYA story. It was Ed’s story, a Black man, where he talks about weather and math and his own racial identity. It helped the kids see that no matter your identity, you can see yourself as a mathematician. It was a lot of identity work, and that’s why I love the book, because it always goes back to identity. And the kids relate to that very easily.
What would you like to tell any educator looking at your work right now?
The thing about Tell Me Who You Are is that it can be paired with any other text you may be using. My students gravitated towards the pictures with all the identifiers around it, the fun facts. I have a copy on my Kindle and a hardcopy, and my students would just keep going back to it, picking it up, grabbing it, pointing out lines and phrases that stuck out to them. If you’re a teacher, try using it, it’ll really help.
Lynsey Burkin'S Lesson plans:
TYPE: Activity (part of a unit) TITLE: What Does It Mean To Be A Mathematician? CONTENT AREA: Math
GRADE LEVEL(S): 3rd Grade
UNIT DESCRIPTION: This unit is intended to build the mathematics community and student identities at the beginning of the school year by sharing stories of mathematicians around the world. Students will be introduced to many stories of mathematicians as they collectively develop what they want the classroom mathematics community to look and feel like along with defining who they want to become as a mathematician.
Click below to download a PDF of Lynsey Burkins's full lesson plan.