Teacher Wears Headdress, Whoops in Math Lesson

California teacher placed on leave after video of 'SohCahToa' lesson goes viral
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 22, 2021 4:57 AM CDT

A California teacher accused of mocking Native Americans in an effort to teach a trigonometry mnemonic has been placed on leave. In video apparently taken by a student at John W. North High School in Riverside, the teacher, wearing a faux headdress, whoops and makes tomahawk motions as she chants "SohCahToa," a mnemonic used to remember the sine, cosine, and tangent functions. The teacher also refers to a "rock god" and a "water goddess," CNN reports. Riverside Unified School District spokesperson Diana Meza says the teacher is now on administrative leave and the district has launched an investigation.

According to an Instagram post that shared the video Wednesday, the teacher was filmed by a Native American student. The student—who "has a Native first name and outwardly identifies as Native American"—"noticed the teacher was pulling out a fake feather headdress and when she put it on he thought, 'what is she going to do?'" the post says. Laura Boling, president of the Riverside City Teachers Association, said that while the teacher "may not have intended to cause harm, we are disappointed by the insensitive and inappropriate behavior."

A statement from a group of state lawmakers said it was "damaging and disheartening to see Native American and Indigenous culture represented in such a trite and insensitive way." Kim Kirkpatrick, a 2012 North High graduate, tells the Press-Enterprise that she found a photo of the teacher doing the same thing in her senior yearbook. The caption said the teacher was "dancing from one end of the room to the other" and wearing "an Indian headdress to emphasize geometry basics,” Kirkpatrick says. (Read more California stories.)

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