Nancy Tseng appointed Associate Professor of Teaching in Education

Portrait of Nancy TsengDr. Nancy Tseng, formerly a Lecturer/Supervisor in the School of Education’s Multiple Subject Credential Program, has been appointed Associate Professor of Teaching in Education as of July 2023. She will continue to serve as the coordinator of the School’s Mandarin Bilingual Authorization Program. “I’m excited that in this new role, I can continue to focus centrally on the teaching and mentoring of teaching credential candidates and MA students,” she said. “At the same time, this role affords the opportunity to think more deeply about ways to link research and practice and use this knowledge in the preparation of future teachers.”

Tseng’s interest in a teaching career began at UC Davis when she was an undergraduate student majoring in psychology and minoring in music. She was exploring career options when friends going through the teaching credential program suggested she consider teaching.

“I knew I enjoyed working with kids,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why don’t I try it and see?’ And I just fell in love with teaching. There’s something about children that will keep me optimistic forever. But it was also realizing that teaching is an intellectual, practical, and relational experience. The work of teaching is so much more complicated than it looks from the outside. I loved that combination—it fit with all these different aspects of my personality. And here I am, more than 20 years later, still teaching, just in a different capacity.”

Tseng taught first and third grades in the Robla School District in Sacramento for nine years. During that time she also served as a resident teacher for School of Education credential candidates, and worked in professional development for teachers during the summer with the Sacramento County Office of Education—experiences she credits for sparking the next steps in her career path.

Rebecca Ambrose speaks with Nancy Tseng at an outdoor event“Being able to impart what I’d learned to someone who was becoming a teacher was new for me and different from teaching children,” she said. “Learning how to teach teachers helped me reflect on my own practice.” Being a resident teacher also introduced Tseng to the work of School of Education professor Rebecca Ambrose.

“One of my student teachers was taking a course with Rebecca, and I was noticing the change in engagement with my K-6th grade students in math,” she said. “Rebecca began doing inquiry with some of my students and that inspired me to start doing teacher inquiry myself on my own classroom practices and learn how to use these new learnings to inform my own practice.”

Tseng went back to UC Davis to earn her MA in instruction in 2007, and then earned her PhD in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in mathematics education from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2014—a choice that was inspired in part by her varied experiences in math classes as an undergraduate student.

“I had failed the first math class I took at UC Davis,” she said. “It was in a big lecture hall, I didn’t understand what was happening, and I didn’t feel comfortable going to the professor. That really shook my identity as a learner.” Tseng did well in the class when she retook it with a different professor, a smaller class size, and a different participation structure. “We solved the problems together, we talked about the problems, I felt comfortable with the professor, and I really understood math meaningfully for the first time in my life,” she said. “I was fascinated by the role of a trusting relationship between a teacher and a student, and how that could impact one’s relationship with math. I always took that with me and that’s why I ended up going down the path of math education years later. It became the focus of my doctoral dissertation.”

Nancy Tseng with six graduating students in robesTseng is currently a co-investigator on a $1.69 million Institute of Education Sciences grant with principal investigator Associate Professor Nicole Sparapani and co-PI Professor Peter Mundy to explore how general education teachers can use inclusive math and literacy instructional practices to support autistic learners in their kindergarten to third grade classrooms.

“Our research is intended to address the need to bridge special education and general education in our program and the field more broadly,” said Tseng. “We’re also interested in identifying inclusive classroom practices that will include experiences of neurodivergent learners in elementary settings.” The team is videotaping teachers in their classrooms as they work with students, then analyzing the effectiveness of different practices. Those videos will be available to use as case studies in future teacher education curriculum as well.

“Sometimes schools and classrooms can marginalize students and make them feel like school isn’t for them,” Tseng said. “We want students to have a sense of belonging, to feel seen and valued. Our goal with this work is to help future teachers learn ways to create the joyful and humanizing classroom spaces necessary for all children to thrive and be successful.”

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