Dr. Nathan Alexander joined University of San Francisco in the Teacher Education Department as a visiting faculty member in fall 2014 and will continue in the Teacher Education Department as Assistant Professor beginning fall 2015.
Dr. Alexander recently talked to the School of Education about what inspired him to become an educator, how he wants to change the world, his favorite teaching moment, and more.
Where did you grow up? I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. I currently live in Oakland and it reminds me of my hometown – mainly the community norms – which made the move from New York, where I was prior to California, that much better.
What inspired you to become an educator?
In college I had the opportunity to work with the Upward Bound program. I also worked as a TA in the mathematics department. I was pretty young and the students warmed up to me rather quickly—this is where I think it all began. The way that we approached learning mathematics was what eventually inspired me to commit to becoming an educator.
One of my mentors came to see me teach a few classes and she said I was a natural—I took that as advice to become a teacher. One thing that has been extremely rewarding for me is my ability to connect my mathematics teaching to sociological issues; I double majored in mathematics and sociology.
My trajectory has come full circle in many ways…down to me teaching social justice courses and continuing my work with Upward Bound here at USF.
What is one of your favorite teaching moments?
When I was a teacher in Harlem, I had a class of energetic and opinionated middle school students.
They had pretty bad experiences in the past with mathematics, so I decided that we’d start class by talking about what they felt other teachers had done “wrong.” I had them write up their notes and we created a plan for the year—this plan ultimately resulted in them having more faith in me as a brand new teacher and I also had a list of things I knew I should avoid!
I had no idea what I was doing then, but this is something I begin all of my classes – by having students reflect on their learning experiences.
What is one thing you are currently working on that excites you?
I am working on a project that utilizes advanced mathematics—from courses like Calculus, Statistics, Econometrics and Stochastic Modeling—to frame historical and critical issues in social and political domains.
This project focuses on critical pedagogy in mathematics as a means to support students’ identity development pathways and their mathematics self-efficacy beliefs. The real power in the project is that it is interdisciplinary in nature. I
have started to build a host of mathematical models to examine, for example, the impact of social movements on public opinion. Other examples include using an econometrics measure known as the Index of Dissimilarity (ID) to examine neighborhood composition and social contexts surrounding urban gentrification.
My current long-term plans for the project are to build a curriculum model and lessons that can be used in advanced mathematics courses—which, in theory, will generate a pipeline to get more students interested in taking more advanced mathematics courses. You can think of the current phase of the project as an iteration of critical social and cultural studies in mathematics.
What is something that people may be surprised to learn about you?
Outside of loving mathematics—if that isn’t yet obvious—I have a deep passion for the arts, especially dance. Growing up, I studied at the Children’s Theater of Charlotte.
As I got older, I was trained in ballet, hip-hop, step and African dance. During college, I was the lead choreographer for the Opeyo Dance Company, which is an all-black, student-led dance company. While I was living in New York, I attended classes regularly at the Ailey School and Broadway Dance Company—one of my best instructors at BDC was Luam, who taught me a thing or two about pedagogy.
I was also the step master for my fraternity—Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated—and in addition to bi-weekly community service, we won a few step competitions.
Courtesy of USF news at www.usfca.edu/templates/usf_news_comm.aspx?id=6442509105