Deficit Discourse and Labeling in Elementary Mathematics Classrooms

Michelle Garcia-Olp, Jacklyn Van Ooyik, Richard Kitchen


In this paper we examine deficit perspectives that prospective elementary school teachers (PTs) noticed their mentor teachers held with regards to classifying students by their achievement or behavior. Using a sociopolitical framework, we explored the following research question: What labels and forms of labeling of students have elementary school PTs experienced as part of their school placements? According to PTs, mentor teachers commonly expressed deficit narratives and attached labels to their students, particularly to students of color and low-income students. Deficit perspectives led to student blaming and lowering of expectations, which PTs were convinced negatively impacted students’ mathematical identities. Though student labeling was common, PTs also provided examples in which their mentor teachers refused to attach degrading labels to their students. 

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