Friday, June 22, 2012

The Five Misconceptions About Teaching Math and Science

This comment is based on an article in Slate, brought to my attention by The MathMom: The Five Misconceptions About Teaching Math and Science 

 There are several interesting quotes in this short article. Here is one: "The fact that we score poorly now does not mean that our educational system has deteriorated. In fact, it was always bad." I like that, since it points to a different solution from going back to the "good old days".

Another interesting quote about recruiting good teachers: "The problem, however, is not recruiting people into teaching. The problem is keeping them in teaching. Teachers work very hard. They are not paid enough. They endure great stress daily. These factors drive many out of the profession. A study by the National Education Association found that the five year dropout rate for new teachers is 50 percent."

But then, the article says that the way to retain more new teachers is professional development. If teachers are overworked, underpaid, and overstressed, how is making them sit in on more inservice training or more coursework going to help? I respectfully disagree that this is the most important way to retain new teachers.  I think education needs to deal with the problems of overwork, underpayment, and stress.


  1. I think if teacher development is more like what Liping Ma talks about in Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics (a constant discussion and feedback system with other professionals), then it becomes more useful than periodic inservice days or college courses.

    I agree that A students who always just "got it" aren't always the best teachers. However, you do need a teacher who can reach the top students, too, and aren't intimidated by what they're doing and capable of.

    As someone who enjoys teaching (although I don't do it professionally) but finds it draining, I wonder whether the proportion of introverts in STEM affects things. (Is the proportion of introverts in STEM different than the proportion of introverts in the humanities, for example?) If teachers are introverts, then it's easy to see why they might burn out.

  2. I love Liping Ma's book and I loved the Alaska Math Consortium classes I took, which developed teaching of mathematics through teaching mathematical thinking, but I don't think that those things are the solution to keeping new teachers longer than the 5 years. Teaching is hard. Teachers need to have time to do their work and new teachers need a lot of time. I also think mentoring of new teachers helps. And making the job less stressful would really be great - smaller classes, more support for special needs kids, real help with discipline problems, and so on.

    I enjoy teaching, but I am currently only subbing. Full time jobs for me meant 50 or 60 hours a week and I can't do that any more.

    Interesting question about introverts in STEM. I consider myself an introvert and my sisters and nieces, too. All of us are mathy-sciency types. And, I think this is, in fact, one of my difficulties. When I am teaching, I almost NEVER go into the teachers' lounges during my break times. I need time to myself to recover from the hard work with the kids. But it means that I don't network like I should - to develop contacts and possibly a more regular position.

  3. BTW, I agree that sometimes the average student can become a better teacher than the "A" student - at least in the regular classroom. Virtually everyone has had the experience, at one time or another in their lives, of not understanding something and having to struggle with it. But sometimes, the "A" student just doesn't realize how slowly the must go for most students. I find myself having this problem a lot, especially in a class where the students aren't giving me much feedback.

    But I think teachers of the gifted need to understand the differences in what gifted kids need. Teachers who are themselves gifted often understand this better than average teachers.