[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.] ************************************************************
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TEACHING ENVIRONMENT OF TEACHERS IN TEACHER ENHANCEMENT PROJECTS IN THE SOUTHERN ILLINOS REGION
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 K-8)
. Aside from their "methods" courses, teachers' experience with mathematics learning has been almost solely in a professor/lecture context
TECHNOLOGY (CALCULATORS AND COMPUTERS):
. teachers exhibit a fear of or anxiety about working with computers and calculators
. 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:
. over indulgence in sugar and fast foods
. breakdown of the traditional family, single-parenting, and 'latch-key children'
. 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
. 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 classroom]
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) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org