Qualified to Teach Math?

Teaching Math

During a professional development session in math, I recently heard a person note that there is no link between good math instruction and teacher university qualifications in math. My BSD detector went up … not what you are thinking BTW … banal statement detector (BSD).

The statement de-linking math knowledge with good math instruction makes no sense to me. What I do know is that many of my colleagues have not taken math since grade 10 and dropped math because they lacked confidence in the subject. These teachers were assigned to teach math at the junior and intermediate level. To further add to the challenges of instructing math, in the recent inquiry approach to math, teachers now cannot simply hand out worksheets and mark tests … they have to check for students’ understanding of what a math concept means. Understanding math concepts involves understanding relationships and interconnections among and between math strands.

  • An example of concepts in number sense is that multiplication is a form of repeated addition and that subtraction is an opposite function of addition. e.g. 12 = 3+3+3+3 or 12 = 3 groups of 4 or has the factors of 3 x 2 x 2 or 12 = 24 – 3-3-3-3.
  • An example of a concept in fractions is that common fractions are related to decimals and percentages. e.g. ¾ = 75/100 = 0.75 = 75% which can be shown using discrete models, number line models, area models, and volume models. I once knew a teacher who always made her math tests out of 100 as she had trouble calculating percentages.
  • An example of an algebraic concept is that “x” represents real numbers and that subsets of real numbers can be natural numbers, whole numbers, integers, rational numbers, and irrational numbers. Confusion occurs between the concept of a constant like 4 is always 4 and a variable x can represent any number.

I did a quick literature review on the subject of math teacher qualifications. Researchers found that “teacher experience, education, and licensure test scores have positive effects … These
effects are large for math” (Buddin & Zamorro, 2009). University of Toronto researchers found that teacher candidates in the Master of Teaching degree lacked basic math competencies to be considered literate (Reid & Reid, 2017).

Other researchers emphasized that “content knowledge in math is an important construct that can either support or hinder progress toward exemplary classroom instruction” (Philipp et al., 2007 cited in Reid & Reid, 2017).

Ball, Thames, and Phelps (2008) suggest that the absence of improved math instruction is resultant from teachers’ lack of content knowledge within this subject area. “Teachers who do not themselves know a subject well are not likely to have the knowledge they need to help students learn this content” (p. 404).

Reid and Reid (2017) highlighted that 50% of Canadian high school students drop math as soon as they can only taking compulsory courses in grade 10 or 11 (Amgen Canada Inc, 2013). This information was reinforced by a quote from a research participant in the elementary stream explaining math anxiety and dropping high school math as soon as possible … “And then when math became an option, like enough … I’m done with math!”

Reid and Reid (2017) recommended that teacher education programs establish a minimum of math competency standards, enhance coherence between Master of Teaching math courses and practicum placements, and provide additional support for teacher candidates with low math proficiency (with scores of 75% or below on the Math pre-test).

So where does the information state that math teachers do not have to have a math background. According to Sean Cavanagh, an associate editor for Education Week, math majors or test scores are not a good indicator of quality math instruction (Cavanagh, 2009). But teachers who have math-based majors such as science, computers, and engineering, did provide quality instruction in math (Wu et. al., 2017). Betty Ray, edutopia’s senior editor at large, wrote that “It seems there’s no strong evidence that teachers who have college math degrees get better results with students than teachers who don’t, at least in elementary and middle school.”

Or maybe there’s a lack of qualified math teachers? I could continue with my investigation but I’ll stop here.

Things I know:
I am a better science teacher because I learned about science in my science degree. I am a better math teacher because I took many grade 12 math courses with a qualified math teacher. My understanding of math continued to grow with a math related business degree. But because I have an ancillary understanding of French does not mean I should be teaching French.

Your turn to be heard. What do you think?

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

Teachers Need to be Taught Math 

Teachers Shortage in Math 

Should Math Teachers have Math Degrees

For Many Math Teachers, Math Just Doesn’t Add Up 

Amgen Canada Inc., & Let’s Talk Science. (2013). Spotlight on science learning: The high cost of dropping science and math. Retrieved from http://www.letstalkscience.ca/images/SpotlightOnScienceLearning-2013.pdf

Cavanagh, S. (2017). Majoring in Math Not Always a Classroom Plus downloaded at https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/11/25/13mathteach.h29.html?qs=majoring+in+math+not+always+a+classroom+plus

Resources from Peer Reviewed Journals

Ball, D.  L., Thames, M.  H., & Phelps, G.  (2008).  Content knowledge for teaching: What makes it special? Journal for Teacher Education, 59(5), 389-407.  doi:10.1177/0022487108324554

Buddin, R., & Zamarro, G. (2009). Teacher qualifications and student achievement in urban elementary schools. Journal of Urban Economics66(2), 103-115.

Desimone, L., Hochberg, E. D., & McMaken, J. (2016). Teacher Knowledge and Instructional Quality of Beginning Teachers: Growth and Linkages. Teachers College Record118(5), n5.

Philipp, R., Ambrose, R., Lamb, L., Sowder, J., Schappelle, B., Sowder, L., . . . Chauvot, J. (2007). Effects of early field experiences on the mathematical content knowledge and beliefs of prospective elementary school teachers: An experimental study. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 38(5), 438-476.

Reid, M., & Reid, S. (2017). Learning to be a math teacher: What knowledge is essential?. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education9(4), 851-872.

Wu, L. C., Chao, L. L., Cheng, P. Y., Tuan, H. L., & Guo, C. J. (2017). Elementary Teachers’ Perceptions of Their Professional Teaching Competencies: Differences Between Teachers of Math/Science Majors and Non-math/Science Majors in Taiwan. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 1-14.

Updated: October 22, 2017 — 5:23 pm

The Author

Deborah Weston

I love teaching and have been practicing for over 18 years in the Peel DSB. I have taught grades 2 through to grade 8, including split and contained Spec Ed classes. I am an advocate for issues on Workplace Health & Safety, Special Education, Mental Wellness, LGBTQT, and FNMI. I believe that when working collaboratively, teachers are better together. In 2015, I earned my PhD in Education Policy and Leadership with a focus on teacher collaboration and policy implementation. Follow me on Twitter @dr_weston_PhD

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