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Middle School Mathematics Teachers’ Efforts to Foster Classroom Democracies

Abstract

How can middle school mathematics teachers navigate their roles as authorities in managing classroom democracies while providing their students with opportunities to exercise their rights? The concept of complementarity (Vithal, 1999) acknowledges that a teacher’s authority is not always in conflict with students’ rights or agency, but instead a teacher’s authority can be exercised judiciously to invite students to enact their rights. In this response to “Creating Democratic Mathematics Classrooms,” we take up the authors’ invitation to reflect on how we consider the role of responsibilities in classrooms that promote Torres’s Rights of the Learner. We share ways that two middle school teachers work to foster their classroom democracies and explore tensions between the teacher’s authority and students’ rights during these practices: (a) engaging students in a democratic practice of writing a class set of rights and responsibilities, (b) constructing cold calling as a more democratic practice if students have choices for how to respond, (c) offering students an experience of a safe space to challenge their teacher’s authority in the context of group work, (f) transferring responsibility for learning onto students, and (e) inviting students to reflect on their rights to support students with learning to claim their rights.

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