Teaching math to teachers

A friend of mine is in the mathematics department at a large state university. I asked him what he was going to teach for the upcoming semester and he replied “I told the head of my department that I would teach anything except our classes for education majors.” What’s wrong with those classes? “Remember that the weakest students at the university are the ones who are going to become teachers. The curriculum of the ed school is not about content, so the students aren’t expected to learn any math. The ed school tries to lower the bar as much as possible so that they can crank out as many teachers are possible.” What does the ed school want their majors to learn about math then? “They want us to teach them how to draw a vertical line on the blackboard, how to develop a lesson plan. We’re always having fights with the ed school professors because we try to put some math into a course with a title such as ‘Math for Elementary School Teachers.’  I tried teaching the class once but it was a disaster. The textbook is almost content-free. You’re trying to teach Euclidean geometry without mentioning anything about proofs.”

4 Comments

  1. Josh

    July 7, 2013 @ 11:23 pm

    1

    The only exception at my college seemed to be if you wanted to be a Math teacher, then you basically took everything, including some first year grad courses, before you received your degree. Although, you’d only be a high-school teacher and could at most hope to teach the equivalent of Calc II. Still nice to see.

    A non-math friend, on the other hand, took two math courses, one that was so terrible, the university didn’t even count it as a credit (it’s still a semester long class, you get no credit towards graduation, which I found amusing yet very sad), just so he could then take the lowest-level credit course the following semester, and that’s it. This is stuff most 9th graders should have known. I wouldn’t have trusted these to be teachers to teach 2nd graders math, let alone middle school kids. I’ve also never understood all the administrative crap you have to go through as a teacher (learning how to develop a lesson plan?!) that I’ve avoided something I think I would love to do.

    This math-aversion is so ridiculous it goes way beyond teachers. Pick out any science book (if you can even find them) at a bookstore that’s ridiculously math-centric and you basically get: “Hey everyone, here’s a book on quantum physics, but don’t worry, there won’t be any math!” I just want to punch someone.

  2. Ben

    July 8, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

    2

    It’s a shame your friend is such an academic snob. Rather than being uppity about how great he is at math and how bad people not majoring in math are at math, he could see teaching these future teachers as an opportunity to show them what foundation students need at the appropriate level and how to teach these concepts to them in a way that will generate a love for math. These are courses intended to teach students how to teach, not teach them the subject matter. The expectation should be from the University and employer that the student has completed the instruction necessary to understand the concepts they will relay. The fact that he’s mentioning proofs in the same breath as ‘Math for Elementary..’ shows how disconnected he is from the notion of teaching young children as opposed to university students. I considered education and couldn’t do it for that exact reason. Breaking down concepts such as time, currency, fractions to a level that a child will understand is not a simple chore. Tougher still is making a subject like math fun and interesting to a student without a natural penchant.

  3. philg

    July 8, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

    3

    Ben: Your assumption that my friend is a snob and interested only in teaching math majors, for example, turns out to be incorrect. Separately he told me how much he enjoyed teaching the lowest level math course at the school, a survey class taken by non-tech/science majors. The students are folks who probably wouldn’t have gotten through pre-calculus in high school. My friend’s beef was not with students who aren’t knowledgeable about math, but rather with bureaucrats in the education department at his school.

    [As for "teaching how to teach children," let's hope that this isn't a subject that math professors are called upon to lead since they wouldn't have had any experience with it. And, in any case, one would hope that the math textbooks themselves would have pretty refined examples. After all, the subject hasn't changed too much since 628 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmagupta ).]

  4. Ben

    July 8, 2013 @ 1:39 pm

    4

    My apologies then for calling him a snob, the statements you’ve quoted belie his desire to share. The rest of the post is still accurate though I believe. The classes are about teaching math to students, not learning math. While other classes in the ed program will concentrate more on the actual teaching, like preparing a lesson plan that Josh seems to feel is unnecessary, this is about teaching math. As I said it’s an opportunity for a person who has a passion for and a deep understanding of math to shape what will be taught, and how it will be taught. He could be creating great math teachers rather than writing them off as underachievers and condemning future students to more dry text book recitations. But I guess he’s correct in that in order to do what I propose there will be math in the course which creates conflict with the Ed department, but perhaps not at the level he thinks is necessary.

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