I came across this article last week entitled, “Teachers are Missing the Mark in Math“. The article reviewed a national study about the capability of teachers to teach mathematics, primarily at the elementary grades. The study recommends that colleges and universities develop more difficult tests to certify teachers upon graduation of teacher prep programs. The study attributes the poor preparation as the reason that US students perform much lower on standardized mathematics tests.
Because teachers are not prepared to teach elementary students math, Walsh said American elementary school students continue to lag internationally in math and science rankings.
The study looked at professors’ syllabi and textbooks to make the determination. While I am a novice researcher, I am not sure that one can gain great insight into the instructional strategies and practices professors used to design and deliver instruction. The study found the following:
. . . that 87 percent of schools studied, including all three Texas schools (the University of Texas at Dallas, University of Texas at El Paso and West Texas A&M University ), failed to adequately prepare elementary teachers for the math demands of the classroom.”
After teaching elementary and middle mathematics, I concur with the findings that many elementary teachers struggle teaching math at a level that helps students develop a solid foundation of mathematics concepts, algorithms, properties, etc. As a result, students progress to the next grade level ill prepared. Today, as I am sure you are aware or you wouldn’t be reading this post, there are tons resources available to assist teachers in designing effective math lessons.
I find it very interesting a comment made by Scherry Johnson who is the UT-Dallas Teacher Development Center Director. She oversees the teacher prep program at UT-Dallas.
. . . nobody at UT-Dallas knew that the National Council on Teacher Quality was evaluating the school, and suspects the study is full of mistakes because it looked only at syllabi and a textbook.
Unfortunately, many college professors have not taught elementary grade levels and have only experienced the result of poor mathematics at the elementary levels when the students reach them in secondary grade levels. In my opinion, elementary teachers carry the burden of providing students a foundation in all content areas without being able to focus solely on mathematics as in secondary grade levels.
When I taught middle school math, the level of instruction I delivered was much higher than when I taught elementary grade levels as I only had to focus on my math preps. I hate to admit it but my students didn’t receive quality instruction in content areas that were not tested with a standardized test. Although I was responsible for teaching social studies, social studies lessons and activities took a backseat to language arts and mathematics.
Over time, I became skilled at integrating content areas into the areas of instruction that were assessed by standardized tests exposing my students to effective lessons in all content areas. It was difficult and time consuming but I felt my students were well rounded as a result. Integrating technology components definitely upped the efficacy of activities, lessons and units that I designed.
I say this to make a point. Read the following quote from the Scherry Johnson from the article:
“I was totally surprised,” said UT-Dallas Teacher Development Center Director Scherry Johnson. “Right now, I’ve been sitting in on that methods class, and I am just blown away. They use manipulatives so the students are learning hands-on math, which is the best way for elementary students to learn math concepts.” (Italics and bold styles used for emphasis)
“Blown away” by using manipulatives? Surprised by the instructional strategies the professors employed in the teacher tech program which she oversees? Teachers in the elementary prep program only have to take one class on teaching mathematics and Johnson was commenting on “…that methods class…“. No wonder teachers are ill prepared when supervising advisors and professors have not kept up with trends, instructional strategies and technology tools to enrich instruction. Teacher prep programs are only as good as the professors. If the professors, or faculty members are experienced with many years in education but have not kept up to date on the latest educational trends and strategies to improve instruction teachers just entering the profession will struggle and quickly become frustrated and leave the profession.
Statistics show the turnover for teachers in the first five years is very high and I am sure the number is growing each year. I am not a professor and don’t proclaim to know all there is to being an effective teacher but I definitely make an effort to reflect, grow and learn to employ strategies that are research based to improve instruction. Incorporating technology components is a big focus in my lessons and activities although I have worked with ‘dinosaurs’ that believe in paper/pencil instruction and working out of the textbook with out supplementing with quality, motivating activies. It is a vicious cycle of generating ill equipped teachers producing ill equipped students who become ill equipped teachers over and over. The question now is how do we stop this cycle and generate effective teachers producing students who received quality instruction at each grade level? What are your thoughts?