Standard P.1. Partnerships

Standard P.1. Partnerships

Although partnerships are important at all levels of mathematics teacher preparation, they are particularly important in ensuring the effective preparation of teachers of mathematics at the high school level.

Given that many candidates complete many more hours in mathematics content courses than in coursework particularly focused on mathematics teaching, mathematics department personnel must recognize and attend to the particular needs of secondary mathematics majors. Having close working relationships between mathematicians and mathematics educators helps to ensure that both courses specifically focused on mathematical content relevant to teaching and those for a wider range of majors include attention to the needs of high school mathematics majors. In addition, mentor teachers overseeing clinical experiences need to be included in discussions around high school mathematics teacher preparation to ensure alignment between the practices advocated within the preparation program and the instructional practices candidates both observe and are supported in implementing. Having close relationships among those responsible for the program and the mentor teachers beyond a sole focus on providing clinical experiences enhances the probability that this alignment will be achieved. Vignette 7.5 illustrates this point.

Vignette 7.5. The Importance of Coherent and Consistent Program Components

The prospective mathematics teachers enrolled in State University’s one-year post-graduate secondary credential program love the two mathematics methods courses Robert teaches. He makes the course engaging yet relevant, and the students appreciate the innovative and empowering ways they are learning to think about mathematics, mathematics teaching, and students. State U. offers a fifth-year teacher credential program whereby students are enrolled in cohorts of 30 students, with each cohort led by a leader who is responsible for placing students into their student-teaching assignments. The students in each cohort together take a set of non-subject-specific courses, including social foundations, educational psychology, reading in the content area, teaching content to emergent multilinguals, and classroom management; once a week the secondary students from the different cohorts meet for their content-specific methods courses. Consequently, Robert teaches the mathematics methods courses to all the secondary-credential students.  The students concurrently student teach, so Robert provides opportunities in his methods class for students to reflect on opportunities and challenges experienced by student teachers.

Over the years, one of Robert’s major frustrations has been that student teachers generally do not observe the kinds of instruction from their mentor teachers that he has been promoting in his methods class. Robert has found that his message is often trumped by the classroom practice the candidates observe, and when Robert raised the issue with others in his department, the response was that student-teaching placements have always been made by the cohort leaders, who must consider such factors as the school’s location, the principal’s sense of the needs of his or her school, and convenience for student-teaching supervisors.

Lately, however, the situation dramatically improved when two colleagues, Lauren and Diane, were awarded a Noyce Master Teaching Fellows grant.  Lauren and Diane recruited 40 exceptional secondary school mathematics and science teachers who began a 5-year professional development project focused on improving classroom instruction. Furthermore, because one goal of the Noyce Master Teaching Fellow Project is developing leadership, Lauren and Diane supported the Noyce teachers in emerging into leaders by helping them learn, for one thing, how to more effectively serve as mentor teachers for student teachers. After 2 years of the Noyce project, Lauren and Diane lobbied for and were permitted to create and lead a new mathematics/science, STEM-focused cohort for 30 of the secondary mathematics and science credential student applicants. As part of this new cohort, Lauren and Diane assumed the responsibility for assigning student teachers, and their highest priority was that the mentor teachers be selected on the basis of their excellent and innovative instruction. Furthermore, they arranged for many of the Noyce Master Teacher Fellows to serve as mentor teachers. For the first time, Robert has found that most of his mathematics methods students now see the kind of instruction in their assignments that he is encouraging in his mathematics methods class.

This vignette highlights the complexity of program effectiveness, which can be attained only through the coordination and shared goals among all those charged with teaching or supporting the candidates.  Even the greatest mathematics methods class will have minimal effect on the students if the methods class stands alone, disconnected from other program components.  Candidates must experience a coherent message among the many moving parts across the university and the local school partners.  This example also highlights that commitment to a credential program is a necessary, but often insufficient, condition for program excellence; in this case, the impetus for program change was initiated by the professional activity of the faculty.  In particular, funding of the Noyce grant set into motion a series of changes that led to an improved credential program.  Without the symbiotic relationship among the mathematics educators’ work inside and outside the credential program, the program improvement would not have occurred.