A Retrospective Look at Where We’ve Been and Where We Might Go

A Retrospective Look at Where We’ve Been and Where We Might Go: The Research Committee Reflects Upon the Judith Jacob Lectures and the Early Career Award Articles

On the occasion of AMTE’s 25th Anniversary, the Research Committee took time to consider an aspect of where we have been as an organization by reflecting upon the content of the lectures delivered by the Judith Jacobs awardees and the newsletter articles by the Early Career awardees. We wanted to reflect upon the issues that our award winning colleagues thought deserving of our time and attention. Our intention for this review was neither to complete an exhaustive analysis nor to make definitive conclusions about the content of the lectures and articles. Rather, we wanted to use this retrospective work to provoke our thinking about the issues that our colleagues have brought up and to consider what that might say about where we have been as a community and perhaps even where we might want to go in the future.

Judith Jacob Lectures

Our committee located the 15 abstracts from the Judith Jacobs Lectures that have been delivered at the annual conferences since the inception of the award in 2003. We were able to watch archived videos of some lectures, and for other lectures we used the published abstracts for our analysis. Figure 1 provides a visual overview of the language used in these abstracts. To begin our analysis, three of the committee members independently engaged in open coding to identify the topics that were brought up in these abstracts. From these topics, we identified seven themes that were addressed by the awardees: mathematics teacher preparation programs, inservice mathematics teacher learning, student (K-12) mathematics learning, mathematics content of teacher education, mathematics curriculum and standards, policy around mathematics teacher education, and challenges to mathematics teacher education. We grouped these seven topics into the three themes that we present in this article.

Figure 1. Wordle created from the texts of the Judith Jacob Lecture abstracts from 2003-2016

Theme 1: The Learner: Preservice Teachers, Inservice Teachers, and the PK-12 Students

Given the mission of AMTE, it is not surprising that the theme of mathematics teacher preparation was identified in nearly all of the abstracts. Whether the focus of a given lecture was on fraction learning or on the need to prepare qualified STEM teachers, the Judith Jacob awardees universally asked us to consider the implications for mathematics teacher preparation. Several of the lectures invited our community to consider mathematics teacher preparation in the broader context of teacher preparation policy in general. We were challenged to reflect upon what it would mean for mathematics teacher educators to take leadership roles in these teacher education discussions. Several abstracts also called upon AMTE, and mathematics teacher educators more generally, to play an active role in addressing current issues facing education at large and teacher education specifically. Perhaps the recently released AMTE standards might even be seen as a recent answer to that challenge.

Inservice teacher professional development appeared to be mentioned less often than initial teacher preparation, but it was addressed explicitly in several lectures. One awardee noted that exciting activities are currently underway in mathematics professional development and asked us to "look toward tomorrow" and consider the implications and possibilities for both research and practice. Another awardee asked our community to consider the tension between the facts that teachers are expected to teach mathematics to a greater depth and that preparation programs are now “briefer and less-demanding.” We were encouraged, as a community, to engage ongoing and future initiatives regarding mathematics teacher professional development.

Student mathematics learning was another important topic in these lectures. From one lecture, we were challenged to think through how students can learn about the properties of operations through the integration of content and practice standards. Another lecture pointed to the importance of preparing future teacher of mathematics to focus on student thinking and reasoning. A couple lectures raised the importance of student perspective on mathematics learning. Although one lecture focused on preparing teachers to meet the mathematics learning needs of students with exceptionalities (special education), most lectures did not focus on the needs of diverse learners.  

Theme 2: Mathematics Content and Curriculum

Throughout the lectures, attention was also placed on mathematical content in teacher preparation programs. Mathematics teacher educators were reminded of the need to develop preservice teachers’ mathematical content knowledge and of the means to facilitate students learning of mathematics. For instance, one lecture included use of a classroom video to illustrate how to teach properties of number operations, while another used videos to provide insights on means to engage students with learning fractions. In both instances, the presenters acknowledged the need to increase opportunities for teacher candidates to exhibit the NCTM (2000) mathematical content and process standards, in their teaching and learning of mathematics.

Moreover, despite the increased popularity of “STEM education”, we heard that there is a need to insure that mathematics remains at the forefront of interdisciplinary initiatives. Mathematics educators were challenged to reflect on the complexities of developing teacher candidates and in-service teachers’ mathematical content knowledge, while also addressing current educational trends, to ensure that the teachers had the opportunity to develop the competence and confidence to teach effectively. In this way, we also saw connections to our thinking about the nature of the professional development that we create.

Being cognizant that various stakeholders have a vested interest in the enterprise of teacher education, the nature of the curriculum used can potentially reflect an enculturated perspective of established national standards (Cooney, 2004). Therefore, educators ought to reflect on the implications of the written curriculum (i.e. textbook, and national standards documents (CCSSM, 2010; NCTM,2010), and how it is enacted. Considering that teachers draw upon curriculum materials while engaged in their instructional practices, there is a great likelihood that if the content is not addressed within the curriculum materials it may never be taught. Thus, as the field of mathematics teacher preparation continues to grow, it is important to examine the impact of school mathematics curriculum (Reys, 2014). 

Theme 3: Policy and Challenges

Several lectures challenged us to reflect upon what it would mean for mathematics teacher educators to take leadership roles in current policy discussions. In one lecture, we were reminded of the rapidly changing context in which we work: “The educational landscape is changing rapidly. Students already have access to learning tools anytime anywhere. Teachers have direct access to the data and tools used by mathematicians and scientists.” This challenged us to continue to push our thinking forward and to push policy forward to meet the changing needs of teachers and students.

Multiple Judith Jacob awardees used their lectures as an opportunity to identify important challenges for the field of mathematics teacher education. Some of the clearly articulated challenges were to: (1) prepare and support mathematics teachers to address the needs of all students, including those with exceptionalities, (2) address the criticisms levied against teacher education, and (3) a general charge that we should be "leading the way when it comes to what actually happens in classrooms." Each challenge identified by these colleagues was a valuable reminder of some the worthwhile tasks that have not yet been sufficiently addressed in our field.

In summary, reading the abstracts and watching the archived Judith Jacob lecture videos was an inspiring experience for our committee. We truly enjoyed reflecting upon how our honored colleagues used their freedom and creativity to draw our attention to issues that they found meaningful. For any AMTE members who might want to do their own reflection on these lectures,  the archived videos and abstracts can be found here: https://amte.net/about/awards/judith-jacobs-lecturer.

Early Career Award Articles

Three of our committee members independently read the seven Connections articles written by the past eight ricipients (2009-2016; two of the recipients co-authored one article) of the AMTE Early Career Award. After an initial holistic reading and discussion of the articles, we engaged in another round of independent reading and open coding of the content of those articles. When we came together to discuss our reading and coding, we were struck by the strong common theme among all seven articles of the importance of community. In one way or another, the award winners discussed the centrality of community either as an expression of reaching out or as an expression of drawing in. Through this retrospective analysis, we learned a great deal about how the early career winners were thinking about these two aspects of community, and we share our reflections here. 

Reaching Out

Repeated through many of the Early Career award articles was the fact that these successful colleagues reached out in several different ways to build up a community that ultimately helped them to flourish. We read about early career faculty who were committed to drawing doctoral students into their teaching, research, and way of life. For example, at one institution, early career faculty video recorded their teaching and then invited doctoral students to join their reflections with other faculty on that teaching. In another example, the early career faculty reached out to K-12 mathematics teachers with the goal of valuing their perspective and creating more equitable relationships between K-12 teachers and university faculty. A similar commitment to equitable relationships was seen in another awardee’s efforts to listen to student voices and to create shared learning goals. We were also struck by some of the early career awardees’ willingness to bring their whole selves to the community and to share with others their struggles to balance work and family identities. These early career faculty prioritized telling their own stories and finding strength from sharing struggles with other mathematics teacher educators. 

Drawing In

Many of the Early Career award winners talked about the important role that other mathematics educators played in their support and growth. Many also recognized that since they have been the beneficiaries of this collaboration and support it is now their turn to reach out and support new faculty members. It was also mentioned that the mathematics teacher education community members who have built systems of support are now retiring, and the question was posed “who will now pick up the ball of community building and run with it?” Looking across all of the articles by these award recipient articles, a call was seen for each of us (particularly mid-career community members) to reach out to support and collaborate with others in the community. Whether it is paying it back or paying it forward, the mathematics teacher education community will be strengthened by efforts to reach out and support one another. Ways of reaching out include collaborating with, opening our practice to, or sharing our stories with other mathematics educators.

In summary, the Early Career awardees have reminded us of the importance of our community and how it is both strong and fragile. The evidence of strength was found again and again in each of the articles in which our colleagues directly attributed their success to the community members who had surrounded them and contributed to their growth as professionals. The evidence of fragility was implied in their admonishment that the community needs to be renewed continually. Each new generation of mathematics teacher educators is responsible for both reaching out to others and also drawing them in. The STaR program was mentioned multiple times as a clear example of one generation of mathematics teacher educators drawing new generations into the community. The question now becomes how does our community continue to renew itself? How will the next generation of mathematics teacher educators use its creativity and resources to draw in colleagues? We wonder if this drawing in might involve interdisciplinary dialogue, and we wonder about the ways in which multiple perspectives might be honored and elevated.

For any AMTE members who might want to reflect on these Early Career Awardee articles themselves, they can be found in the Connections archives located here: https://amte.net/connections. We believe that you will be just as inspired as we have been by our honored colleagues who were courageous in the way they wholeheartedly and transparently reflected upon the role of community in their success.  The foregrounding of community speaks to the powerful legacy that AMTE has already created in its first 25 years and challenges each member of AMTE to continue to consider how we will reach out and draw in for the next 25 years.

AMTE Research Committee

Sarah van Ingen, Blake Peterson, Hilda Borko, Ruthmae Sears, and Imani Goffney