Teacher Training: Q&A with Francis "Skip" Fennell. (Mathematics)

Article excerpt

Q: How has education for pre-service mathematics teachers changed in recent years?

A: It has been in the acknowledgement that teachers need to have depth in the field in which they are teaching. However, the actual mathematical background of the middle/junior high and early childhood/elementary teacher is still suspect.... There is a need to link content or mathematics learned at the collegiate level to the mathematics taught at the preK-12 level.

The inclusion of practicum experiences in school-based settings throughout the preparation of the teacher [is another change]. Such experiences now begin during the candidate's initial education course and may include a full year [of] student teaching.

Q: How do teacher/student relationships and their attitudes toward math affect how well students learn?

A: Math gets a bad rap here. You know, the "nerd subject." We see such stereotypes everyday.... Why don't we ever say things like, "Hey, you wanna make money? Do math. Wanna be an accountant, actuary, architect (and these are only the "A" occupations), you need to know math." Everyone should know mathematics.

All of this, of course, starts with the teacher. Most students like math [early on, but] research indicates that negative attitudes first appear in the later years of elementary school, intensify during the middle school years and may lead to the development of math anxiety. Schools must find ways to communicate the value of mathematics. ... Such an initiative, while the responsibility of the school, must include students, teachers, families and the business community.

Q: What kinds of professional development are math teachers seeking today?

A: Ongoing professional development is critical. The challenge here ... is not just taking more math. It's taking math that is related to [what] they teach each day. Additional professional development topics include the use of technology and techniques and strategies for [teaching special needs] students.

It must also be recognized that ... beginning teachers are apprentices.... We lose far too many teachers early in their careers and, interestingly, such losses are rarely due to the mathematical inadequacies of the teacher. …