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Topic: Re: Better Mathematics Teachers
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Karen Dee Michalowicz

Posts: 215
Registered: 12/4/04
Re: Better Mathematics Teachers
Posted: Jul 22, 1995 6:24 AM
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Dear Colleagues,

I have thought a long time about the mathematics
qualifications of "the mathematics teacher." For
better or worse, I'd like to share my ideas.
This is lengthy. So, if the topic isn't interesting,
just delete my posting now.

Also, I thought that I would state my summary first
so that those who don't agree with me
don't have to waste their time reading this post.
In summary, I don't think that the quantity of
mathematics courses makes a teacher
a better teacher of mathematics. Yet, there
is a minimum of background a teacher needs
for certain levels of instruction. It is my
opinion that the pedagogy, understanding of
the child and the deportment of the teacher
probably make more of an impact.

I wish to thank those math-ed college and university
professors who are trying to do the best job that
they can educating our future mathematics teachers.
I know that many subscribe to this list. You all
not only know mathematics, but you also realize
the importance of the way it is taught.

First of all, in teaching mathematics in K-12,
there is the ideal, and there is the real.
I am drawing this from my own many years in
mathematics education, my own course work, and
my reading. Thus, the presented opinions are

Ideally, an undergraduate major is the minimum
mathematics qualification for teaching
mathematics. Now, who are the mathematics

We know that the elementary teacher,
K- to approximately 6th, teaches all subjects, and is
usually in a self-contained classroom
(this is where students stay
in one classroom all day with the same teacher).
What mathematics background is this teacher
expected to have? If it is to be a mathematics
major as an undergraduate, what about the
language arts, social studies, art, science, music,
etc., that the elementary teacher teaches? Should
we expect the elementary teacher to have a
separate degree in all areas? Obviously, this
isn't practical. From my experience in teaching
in the elementary grades, a background in
The Calculus really isn't necessary. However,
a sound understanding of concepts through
rational numbers is. It is my opinion that teachers
in the elementary grades should understand the topics
covered in high school. And, they should understand
how and what they teach prepares the student for
continued mathematics study. Yet, I also believe
that an understanding of good pedagogy, child
growth and development, and learning theories
are essential to mathematics teaching in the
elementary grades.

I guess I'm saying the obvious. The more complex
the mathematics you are teaching, the more
mathematics background is needed. Yet, this is not all.

In middle school, teachers start departmentalizing. In my
opinion the middle school teacher needs a strong
mathematics background, but not necessarily a
mathematics degree. And, in the real world
many districts are looking at middle school
teachers to form a team approach. Thus, often
the mathematics teacher will also teach
another discipline in middle school. In many states, these
teachers don't need mathematics certification.
What is being encouraged is a background
in middle school education. This is because it is felt
the middle school student has so many
affective and social needs.

In my years of teaching, my undergraduate
and my graduate
mathematics degrees have been most helpful
in teaching high school subjects. I have
used my mathematics background in middle school to
enrich my teaching and to give the students a sense
of the flow of mathematics. But, I can't swear that it
was necessary. I did have a precocious student
to whom I taught pre-calculus to in eighth grade.

Frankly, my graduate degree in psychology has
helped me more in K-8 mathematics education.
It has helped in secondary education and in
teacher education, too, but on a lesser scale.
I think it is important to understand the whole
child while teaching mathematics. Just being
a math major in the university wouldn't have
given me this background.

I am working with learning disabled student
right now. He is exceptional in the language arts
areas. However, he (age 11) can remember
his tables. He has had flash cards, records,
etc. He still has problems. What do I do? I
let him use the calculator; I encourage him;
we use tricks to help him remember basic facts;
and we do algebra which he understands. I would
never have any understanding about teaching mathematics
to such a wonderful child without
course work and much reading about
theories of learning. And, I still don't know
enough to help him as I would like.

I love mathematics. I love working out problems
that I find in the MAA journals, in Quantum, etc.
I find these stimulating exercises. What is
important, too, is that my students see that
I enjoy doing such. My modeling of my love
and appreciation of mathematics are essential
to generating such in my students. I suggest
all teachers, K- whatever, need to also model
their love and appreciation of mathematics.

That's my $.02.



Karen Dee

Math History Lives!

Karen Dee Michalowicz VQUEST Math Lead Teacher/Trainer
Upper School Mathematics Chair Virginia Quality Education
The Langley School in Sciences and Technology
1411 Balls Hill Rd, McLean, VA
22012 USA
703-356-1920(w) E-Mail:
Fax: (703) 790-9712 --or--

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