“We need people who are problem solvers in the world.”
Emma wants people to know that Northampton is not post-racial. She explains, “We’re pretty comfortable here talking about LGBQT+ issues but that comfort falls off when we talk about race. We need to come to terms with that as a community.” She says she is learning and making mistakes and is committed to repairing gaps in her own knowledge. “The more I know, the more I know I don’t know.”
Emma is in her fourth year of teaching 6th grade math and literacy at JFK Middle School. She believes teaching math is social justice work. That it’s about showing kids they are capable of solving problems and empowering them to discover solutions. She wants every student to see themselves this way, as mathematicians and fearless problem-solvers.
Emma grew up in Northampton thinking she “was not a math person.” When she arrived as a freshman at Smith College, she was interested in studying medicine, but didn’t feel confident in her math skills. As a math teacher at JFK, Emma invited Smith mathematics professor Dr. Candice Price to talk with her middle school students; Dr. Price shared her story of being a first generation Black college student who ultimately became a mathematician, professor, and advocate for people of color and women in the STEM fields. Inspired by people like Dr. Price, Emma strives to create a classroom culture where students of color feel represented and confident that their ideas are powerful and that they have the ability to succeed. She aims to foster an environment where traditionally marginalized students are comfortable experimenting and sharing their “rough draft thinking.” Emma is now pursuing a MA of Arts and Teaching Mathematics and Leadership at Mt. Holyoke. She is interested in understanding how students learn math, how teachers can affirm students’ identities in math class, and how to help the school system do the best for kids.
In her reading and writing classroom, Emma has used literacy as another tool for equity work. For example, she and her students read and discussed elements of Stamped from the Beginning and So You Want to Talk about Race. Emma created a timeline from 1619 to the present that circulated the classroom walls, and she highlighted the years of slavery to visually emphasize how little time we’ve had in this country without genocide. This particular unit aims to help students understand the ways that slavery and the history of racism continue to impact lives today.
Emma believes that “we need people who are problem solvers in this world.” Toward that end, she engaged her classes in last year’s teacher salary negotiations, resulting in students writing to the School Committee to advocate on behalf of educators earning a living wage. She also invited students to take an inventory of their classroom library and report on gaps, which included texts by and/or about people who are disabled, AAPI and transgender. With the help of High Five Book Store in Florence, they then made a wishlist and caregivers generously purchased books.
When asked if there is anything else she wants our community to know, Emma emphasizes, “We need to amplify the work and voices of people of color in this district. Their work continues to be undermined, under or unpaid, and erased.”
With its “Shine On” series, REAL spotlights educators, caregivers, staff, and students who are using their energy, creativity, and heart to build community and dismantle systemic racism in Northampton Public Schools and beyond.