School of Education
September 1, 2011
“I strive for students to see mathematics education as a social and political practice inasmuch as it is an intellectual one.”
Tesha Sengupta-Irving is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at the University of California, Irvine. She teaches courses and advises students in the Learning, Cognition and Development specialization. Her research examines how classroom-based reforms help to redress inequities in schools and communities more generally, and explores the daily work of teachers and students who serve on the frontlines of that effort. Through her advising and teaching, Dr. Sengupta-Irving strives for students to see mathematics education as a social and political practice inasmuch as it is an intellectual one.
Dr. Sengupta-Irving earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Leaving the private sector within two years, her career in math education began through working with incarcerated youth, and later progressed to full-time teaching at Centennial High School in the Compton Unified School District during state takeover. During that time, her commitment to redress educational inequities through teaching and research took hold. In 2009, she earned her Ph.D. in Mathematics Curriculum and Teacher Education from Stanford University. She then served as Assistant Director of Research at the UCLA Lab School, where she completed two years of postdoctoral studies before joining UC Irvine in 2011.
A goal of Dr. Sengupta-Irving’s research is to better understand how teachers work as change-agents in schools, and how their pedagogical and curricular choices shape the way students historically marginalized in math engage and achieve. Specifically, Dr. Sengupta-Irving’s research explores how math teachers and students experience “equity-minded” reforms like cooperative learning, inquiry-based curricula, and de-tracking. For example, she conducted a yearlong ethnographic study of how students in a low-track Algebra class responded to a teacher’s exclusive use of mixed-ability, small group learning. The class consisted of predominantly female, first generation college-bound, ethnic and racial minority students. In that context, she argues,
The labor to achieve in a group-based environment should be understood as labor that ultimately benefits students: it broadens the notion of achievement in mathematics, especially when set against the backdrop of an academically tracked math program. Concentrating on the creation, enactment, and management of peer partnerships as a mathematical practice rewrites math learning as a more explicitly plural endeavor – part task performance, part interpersonal engagement. This then ushers in a different perspective of what is possible (and desirable) in encouraging all students to more freely and fully participate in the discipline despite inequities in the larger context of their schooling.
More recent studies include close collaboration with 5th grade math teachers considering possible alternatives to their general reliance on direct instruction and use of ability-based grouping. This work has led Dr. Sengupta-Irving to consider more carefully how teachers’ stories about their students shape what they see as possible to change in their teaching, and how they evaluate the adoption of new (equity-minded) practices.