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Topic: The Reality of Classroom Teachers
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 15,675
Registered: 12/3/04
The Reality of Classroom Teachers
Posted: Mar 6, 1999 3:34 PM
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att1.dat (6.8 K)

[Note: What follows is part of a talk I gave to school and university
mathematics educators. The information is based on teachers in three K-12,
two 6-8 and one K-8 teacher enhancement projects, with a total of more
than 500 teachers.
Becker, J.P. (1998) A Report on Inservice Work With U.S. Teachers of
Mathematics. Talk given at the Fourth International Conference on
Mathematics Education, University of Chicago, August 5-7, 1998.]


It is important to note the characteristics of the reality of teachers in
their schools and classrooms. It is within this reality that we have to do
our work with teachers and this makes the professional development of
teachers a very formidable challenge.


Teachers have very heavy teaching loads every day:

. Virtually all teachers teach all periods or 5 of 6, 6 of 7 or 7 of 8
periods each day

. All teachers evalute assignments, workbooks, etc. outside of class

. Teachers (about 90%) frequently have other extracurricular or supervisory
responsibilities (required or to earn extra salary)

. Frequent interruptions of classroom teaching: carrying out administrative
responsibilities (e.g., taking attendance, collecting lunch money), public
address announcements, students called out of classes, messages delivered
to students, etc. [Note: A substantial number of teachers report twelve or
more interruptions of teaching per day and some many more than that.]


. Very commonly teachers have inadequate backgrounds in mathematics,
especially for grades K- 8, having had at most two
mathematics content courses and one mathematics methods course in their
teacher preparation program

. Teachers' perception or beliefs about the nature of mathematics is
influenced by their own inadequate experience with it

. Very commonly teachers express a fear of or anxiety about mathematics
(especially grades

. Aside from their "methods" courses, teachers' experience with
mathematics learning has been almost solely in a
professor/lecture context


Very commonly

. teachers exhibit a fear of or anxiety about working with computers and

. do not have adequate access to computers/calculators for classroom use

. have had too little exposure to use of computers/calculators themselves

. have no time to plan the use of technology in their teaching


. Teachers feel "pressure" from the constant focus of public attention on
students' poor achievement (e.g., NAEPs, FIMS, SIMS, TIMSS, local and state
assessments, and national standardized tests)

. Teachers are besieged by new curricular regulations/ policies handed down
by State and local school authorities (e.g., assessment of student
learning), loss of resource materials due to budget reductions, etc.).
Teachers commonly report that they spend the equivalent of two weeks of
class time each year administering various local and state mandated and
national standardized tests - there is also time taken to prepare for tests
(e.g., start to prepare for the tests two weeks before they are given)


Students seemingly carry the burdens of modern society with them into their
classrooms. Teachers have to deal with them, trying to establish a sound,
basic confidence in them which plays a role in learning:

. alcohol

. drugs

. over indulgence in sugar and fast foods

. breakdown of the traditional family, single-parenting, and 'latch-key

. the anguish of dealing with too many options

. societal emphasis on style, appearance, popularity, money, and romance sex

. disrespectful and disruptive behavior

. lack of motivation


Parents frequently

. are not adquately involved in the education of their students

. do not give adequeate support to teachers when their children are involved
in disrespectful, disruptive or other unacceptable behavior in school

. do not supervise their children with respect to study habits and study
in the home


. Teachers, for various reasons, may be given different teaching
assignments depending on the circumstances of their school, and
therefore lose their identity with mathematics

. Teachers, due to the heavy burden of day-in and day-out duties, may
experience a sense of isolation and have few opportunities to
professionally interact with each other

. Many teachers report that they have had little or no experience in
developing lesson plans, and no time to develop them

. Many teachers have a fear of teaching in front of their peers, something
which should be welcomed and normal in the interests of self improvement.

While the characteristics cited above, based on my experience, may vary
from school to school or from teacher to teacher, nevertheless they give a
good overall picture of the reality that faces us in improving mathematics
teaching. Fatigue is a dominant factor among teachers, as is a wearing down
of spirit. It is no wonder that creativity is sapped by forces teachers
perceive to be beyond their control.

Nonetheless, we have found teachers in our projects to be eager to get
involved in reforming the curriculum, classroom teaching and studying
teaching approaches.

It is a credit to teachers that, in spite of the obstacles, they persevere
and work towards curricular and teaching improvement. It is important to
realize, therefore, that

(1) it is in the reality of the teachers and their schools that work such
as ours must take place, and

(2) it is the teachers on whose shoulders rests the responsibility for
upgrading their teaching [everything is mediated through the teacher in a

Ultimately, curricular and pedagogical changes in mathematics depend on
teachers becoming the agents of reform, rather than the targets. Teachers
face formidable challenges in working torwards curriculum and teacher
improvement. This means that rather substantial resources should be
invested in professional development of teachers, in addition to reforming
textbooks, tests and the public's view(s) of mathematics education.
Further, it is easily seen that TIME FOR TEACHERS is a major problem that
needs to be addressed in order to promote improvement of mathematics
teaching in the schools. Teachers simply have no time during their workdays
to prepare, interact and cooperate with other teachers, and study new
curricular and teaching changes.

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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