Beginning Secondary Mathematics Teachers: A Snapshot across One State

By Latterell, Carmen M.; Wohlhuter, Kay A. | Focus on Learning Problems in Mathematics, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Beginning Secondary Mathematics Teachers: A Snapshot across One State


Latterell, Carmen M., Wohlhuter, Kay A., Focus on Learning Problems in Mathematics


Introduction

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has called for reform in the teaching of mathematics (1989; 2001). Beginning secondary mathematics teachers are being educated in mathematics methods courses to teach by NCTM-oriented standards. Yet, we know little as to how beginning mathematics teachers teach or under what conditions they teach. Ball (1996) called for us to look more critically at how mathematics teachers teach, and questioned if we really know what we think we know about mathematics teachers.

Literature Review

Not many studies directly research the teaching practices or conditions of beginning mathematics teachers at the secondary level (LaBerge and Sons, 1999). Some studies that exist examined particular elements of slightly more experienced teachers. Wohlhuter (1996) studied the decision-making of geometry teachers with at least 3 years of classroom experience. Factors influencing teachers' decisions included past geometry experiences, professional development experiences, articulated course goals, advanced planning decisions, teachers' beliefs, the geometry textbook and other materials, teachers' school settings, and students' needs and actions. Teachers were also influenced by whether they viewed the process of becoming an effective teacher as a life-long process.

Another study examined the qualifications of current mathematics teachers, as well as their work environments and how they continue to learn (Lewis, Parsad, Carey, Bartfai, Farris, and Smerdon, 1999). The study examined teacher preparation and some aspects of the teaching environment among 3,560 teachers whose experience ranged from one to thirty years. They found that less than 50% of the teachers felt that they were "very well" prepared for teaching by their undergraduate experience. Virtually all of them participated in professional development once they were teachers. Approximately 19% had mentors, and most believed that they had the support of their fellow teachers, but not of parents.

Student teaching was the setting for other studies that looked at mathematics teaching. Stahlhut (1992) showed that student teachers are quite dependent on the mathematics textbook and tend not to use technology. Valli and Agostinelli (1993) examined the teaching of a high school mathematics teacher both before and after student teaching. In this case study, the authors described a teacher whose teaching quickly became like that of an expert teacher. The authors suggested that "his professional preparation facilitated and reinforced movement toward good classroom management, sound planning, professional relations with students, and instructional strategies conducive to student learning" (Valli and Agostinelli, 1993, p. 117) and suggested that to improve the quality of mathematics teachers, teacher educators should increase the connection between academic courses and the experience of student teaching.

Skott (2001) directly studied the practices of a mathematics teacher from his student teaching experience through the first eighteen months of his career, concentrating on the relationship between the teacher's beliefs about mathematics and his classroom practices. The researcher found a strong relationship between beliefs and practices, but a very complex one as well. For example, although the reform movement greatly influenced the teacher, the complexities of how the teacher acted out the influence differed based on the classroom reality, including the role the students were playing at any given time. Along this same line, the role that the teacher played at any given time determined which beliefs would dominate.

Adams and Krockover (1997) found that mathematics teachers with less than 2 years experience were concerned with class assignments, curriculum development, time management, classroom management, and presentation of the content. In addition, these mathematics teachers thought that their content course work while earning a teaching degree was sometimes too specific; some of the pedagogical coursework was of limited usefulness; and there should be more field experiences provided. …

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