08 November 2011

Math Specialists: Who Needs 'Em?

You've heard of reading specialists before.  Now, the new thing is math specialists. 

We need math specialists, this article strongly suggests, because a great majority of elementary teachers are intimidated by the subject. Apparently attaining certification after years of study does NOT guarantee that a given teacher really knows third grade math, let alone how to teach it. 

"Many teachers-in-training harbor bad math memories, said Jennifer Suh, an assistant professor of math education at George Mason University. Suh begins her classes 'almost like a therapy session,' she said, where she asks the aspiring teachers to talk about their math education. Some recalled suffering through work sheets or getting stuck in lower-level classes."

Let's just take a break from chatting about "math specialists" for just a minute, okayyyy?  Do we want people who got "stuck in lower-level classes" teaching our future mathematicians and scientists?  Nevermind the therapy business a minute, because I'm assuming these teachers are paying for that crap themselves.  Let them discover their inner teacher as much as they'd like on their own dime; but hopefully, my local school district and yours would know better than to hire someone who's plainly incompetent.  Especially in this down economy, where recently there were 75 applications for every teaching job, we can DEMAND better.  Demand better!

Back to the math specialist idea.  It might just be a good one if children who are struggling with mathematics get a little bit of specialized help.  Certainly, if we're going to have a specialist for reading, I don't see why we can't have one for mathematics.  Mathematics is just as important as reading, isn't it? 

Though it does bother me to read that the specialists seem to be hired to take the load off teachers who have no business instructing children in the subject, and aren't by and large there to help the children directly at all.  I googled "math specialists" and found quite a number of articles.  The best I can deduce from my reading is that it is a relatively new speciality and other articles also discuss the lack of competency many general classroom teachers have in the subject.

Perhaps it is wrong of me to get snickety about WHY the math specialists are needed.  It seems a simple fact that they are needed, plain and simple. This post is not meant to be a high-n-mighty, public schools are all bad sort of rant.  I am shocked, though, to read that so many teachers have difficulties this deep.  Presumably *most* teachers in training were once public-schoolers. 

WHAT are we doing to our children that turns them off math so decidedly?  I'm sneering at the very idea of this "math therapy" thing, but maybe (just maybe) there is something deeper at work here.  Demographically, our new teachers are overwhelmingly young ladies.  So, what is going on that our young ladies are so math-aversive?  And why would people who are math-aversive be drawn to teaching, knowing that their least favourite subject would need to be taught on a regular basis?

Just some questions I have...


  1. WHAT are we doing to our children that turns them off math so decidedly?

    Well, for me, it was my 11th grade Trig teacher pinching my are and sneering "she's pretty, let's see if she's smart too".

    What about you?

  2. Whoaa. I have no idea where math and I parted ways, but it wasn't quite so sudden.

    PS. You are pretty and smart, but sounds like you had no clue what to do when you were sexually harassed. :(

  3. Well, I made some serious threats to his physical person. Then I got a F for the marking period. Then I had my mother and a minister come in and talk to the principal and teacher. Then the teacher made a deal for me to get an A for the next and final marking period if I passed the Regents exam. I passed it and finished the class with a C. Then I stopped doing math until college, and then only the bare minimum. Homeschooling fortunately returned my love of math.

    I still despise that teacher.

    Mind you, this happened 26 years ago and I remember every detail. Math formulas... not so much.

  4. Oh my goodness... it sounds like you knew to defend yourself in several different ways. I assume this dude is either still teaching or got to retire with full benefit$. Hurrah... :(

    You know, homeschooling made math clear to me as well. I started from the beginning and slowly relearnt everything in its proper order. It was nice to start wayy back in terms of difficulty and then work up. So much of what I thought was math aversion was really the shoddy teaching I got growing up.

    My mother was kind enough to get me tutoring as well, but the tutor NEVER went all the way back, and I NEVER got a diagnostic test of any kind to see where my gaps were. I moved a lot, and that is the first thing that would pop in my head to do; it just wasn't for whatever reason done.

  5. Last I heard he'd retired. He was always independently wealthy. The biggest problem is that is was a hero to the teenage boys in my school... and still is.

  6. Okay, so science is too hard...

    Did you know some kids don't get math, the way some kids don't get reading? There is a dyslexia for math. Really, really smart people use their fingers as adults. I know, because when I mentioned Ben using them in fifth grade, I had 2 very successful women tell me they did, too. One was Ben's godmother.

    I never had a creepy teacher, thank God. Dates, yes, teachers, no.

  7. Yes, I've heard of this! I've also kept hearing that it's way overdiagnosed bla bla bla and I'm thinking, how do they know that? If we're not raising people who think in numbers and words, how do they know that? Sort of like saying ADHD is overdiagnosed. Maybe ADHD is just a different kind of normal and half of all boys have it. :)

  8. Well, I'll definitely agree with the ADHD part...

    I think it could be over-diagnosed, but also underhelped. Like kids with Dyslexia who are harder to teach...anyone who is hard to teach gets a label. Why is that? Can you blame the child then, for not learning?

  9. "Underhelped" is a good word for it. Too often we expect the kids to fit in the box instead of tailoring programs to fit the children.


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