2022 Student Essay Contest: Undergraduate Honorable Mention

“Creating Inclusive Classrooms and Policy for Young Mathematicians”

by: Ingrid Ren (Brown University)

Interviewee: Lindsey Henderson (Utah State Board of Education)

Lindsey Henderson tweets about parabolas in the shadows of lampshades and drives around with a license plate that says MATHING. As an educator and state leader in mathematics, her vision is for all students—including those from backgrounds underrepresented in the field—to be able to see themselves as mathematicians.

Lindsey grew up in the small, rural city of Spanish Fork, Utah, raised by a mom who taught Deaf students and a dad who taught kids hospitalized for mental illnesses. With their shared background as special education teachers, they instilled a strong sense of morals in Lindsey and her sister, now a social worker, teaching them to share their opportunities and express kindness and empathy to everyone.

“I was the kind of student that was hard for teachers to teach,” Lindsey says, laughing, about her time at Spanish Fork’s only high school. She only did well when she particularly liked a class, which occurred when she felt connected to the teacher. Two teachers she connected with were (football) Coach Doug Snell and (track) Coach Chris Caviness who, in fact, both taught Lindsey math.

As Lindsey’s Algebra II teacher, Coach Snell was “gruff and to the point. On the first day of class, he said, ‘I’m here to teach you math. I don’t want to be your friend. I just want you to do your math and do it well.’” Lindsey appreciated his toughness and worked hard. When Coach Snell noticed her talent and asked about her other interests, she felt important and seen.

Coach Caviness, on the other hand, was “young and cool and hip.” He loved teaching geometry and sincerely wanted to know his students, treating them with a kindness and care that made Lindsey feel connected to him and the class. “It was so refreshing to have a teacher who took interest in you, because teenagers can be hard to get to know and hard to win over,” Lindsey says of the two coach-teachers.

After high school, Lindsey earned a Bachelor of Mathematics with a teaching certificate and geology minor at the University of Utah. When her parents had asked her what she planned to do with a math degree, she decided to follow in their footsteps and become a teacher.

According to research, Lindsey says that girls need to be in the supermajority of a room in order to feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their ideas. As one of few, if any, women in her college math classes, she constantly stopped herself from asking questions out of fear of being seen as unintelligent because of her gender. However, Lindsey’s math education courses for the teaching certificate “gave [her] the gender supermajority she needed to engage in discourse, ask questions, and do all those things she couldn’t do in a traditional math class.”

Lindsey started her career as a math teacher at Bryant Middle School. “You know what’s fun about middle school kids?” Lindsey asks. “I know they’re weirdos, but they’re still excited about learning. I really like to spark that excitement. When students are excited, they retain the information better, and it helps their identity as a mathematician.”

Throughout her 13-year teaching career, Lindsey taught all secondary grade levels and all math subjects offered in Utah, from pre-algebra to AP Calculus. She is a strong and insistent believer that all students, including Black, Brown, and English language learner students who are traditionally excluded from mathematics, can succeed in the field. “I think everybody should be a mathematician in K–12,” Lindsey says. “When you get to college, it’s your right to specialize, but in K–12, all kids should be able to have access to mathematics and to be successful.”

In her classroom, Lindsey rejects the traditional image of lecturing at the board while students scribble down notes. Instead, she emphasizes student dialogue and collaboration to work through math problems. By prioritizing process over a right or wrong answer, she also invites English language learners to practice written and oral communication.

“I was also super excited if they engaged in their native language,” says Lindsey, who would ask Spanish-speaking students to translate math concepts into Spanish and teach her. “When you show a kid that you’re interested in what they bring to the classroom, they’re a lot more willing to work hard for you. They feel that you care about them and their culture.”

Since 2018, Lindsey has been a Mathematics Specialist for the Davis County School District and now for the Utah State Board of Education. At the county level, she guided math educators to teach effectively and inclusively, as informed by the latest research on math and education. At the state level, Lindsey decides what math classes Utah public schools offer in each grade, ensuring that students have access to the classes they want and the preparation they need for the following year.

As a state authority in math, Lindsey’s critics are numerous. “I am a woman mathematician telling male mathematicians what to do, so there’s a little tension there,” Lindsey says, laughing. In addition, her vision of making math inclusive, exciting, and accessible to all has received pushback and anger from some teachers who believe math, with the reputation of being difficult and unenjoyable, is an inherently exclusive field.

Lindsey has found ways to stay grounded in her work. “Whenever I get a positive message or email, I print those babies off, and I put them hanging on my wall over here,” she says, gesturing to her celebratory bedroom wall. She also relies on a key group of teachers, principals, and district superintendents to provide honest and encouraging feedback on her ideas. And although ambitious to make systemic educational changes, Lindsey has come to learn to be patient and let many small changes accumulate to big change over time.


While Lindsey considers her current job her dream job, it’s impossible not to miss teaching. As the AP Calculus teacher of a class with majority girls, students of color, and first-generation college students (if they continued their education), she felt incredibly proud to create a space where all kids could be mathematicians.