Indicator P.3.3. Address the Social Contexts of Teaching and Learning
An effective mathematics teacher preparation program embeds opportunities for candidates to learn about the social, historical, political, and institutional contexts that affect mathematics teaching and learning. By closely examining these contexts and the structures, policies, and practices that foster and constrain student access to and advancement in mathematics, candidates develop deeper understandings and ethical skill sets for advocacy work in mathematics education.
Mathematics methods experiences provide candidates with foundational knowledge about the social, historical, political, and institutional contexts that affect mathematics teaching and learning. By closely examining these contexts and the structures, policies, and practices that foster and constrain student access to and advancement in mathematics, candidates develop deeper understandings and ethical skill sets for advocacy work in mathematics education.
Many teacher preparation programs include specific courses designed to address social contexts of teaching and learning (e.g. multicultural education), wherein candidates grapple with various equity issues, including examining the roles that power, privilege, and oppression play in schooling (e.g., tracking) as well as effective antiracist and social-justice pedagogies that disrupt institutional bias with teaching innovation, critical reflection, and social action. However, effective mathematics teacher preparation programs also explicitly address equity issues within mathematics methods courses or equivalent professional learning activities that focus specifically on mathematics. For example, mathematics methods experiences might include critical analyses of current mathematics education systems, including the histories and the institutional tools, policies, and practices that shape the mathematics taught, how, and to whom. Such analysis is essential because the current mathematics education system is unjust and grounded in a legacy of segregation, systems of power and privilege, and deficit thinking based on race, ethnicity, class, language, and gender (Berry, Ellis, & Hughes, 2014; Martin, D. B., Gholson, & Leonard, 2010).
Effective programs also help beginning teachers challenge deficit views about learning by questioning the status quo at a systemic level. For example, they consider testing and tracking systems that have instituted ways to identify, label, and separate children by perceived mathematics abilities (Cogan, Schmidt, & Wiley, 2001; Oakes, 2005). Methods courses must provide candidates with tools and frameworks to support a more asset– and resource–based instructional approach focused on students’ strengths in learning.
High-quality mathematics teacher preparation programs prepare teachers to navigate the mathematics education political terrain. Teachers often are pressured in the unique high-stakes/high-status context of mathematics education that is consequential to mathematics learning, performance, and student affect. Along with cross-disciplinary coursework, mathematics methods courses provide a foundation for new teachers to recognize, navigate, and begin to understand the challenges associated with ultimately transforming these political contexts into a more just and equitable mathematics education than our nation’s youth currently experience (Gutiérrez, 2013a).
Mathematics methods experiences in effective programs prepare beginning teachers to recognize the key roles identity and power play in mathematics education. As identity workers, teachers have tremendous power in how children, their families, and communities see students as doers of mathematics (Gutiérrez, 2013b). Mathematics methods courses offer ways for teacher candidates to critically assess their students’ mathematics identities and create learning opportunities to strengthen those mathematics identities in positive ways.
In effective programs, mathematics methods courses provide opportunities for teacher candidates to learn about and build on the multiple mathematical, cultural, linguistic, and family strengths that students bring to the classroom. These activities require the candidates to go beyond traditional field placements and into community settings to learn from and about students, families, and communities. Viewing these social, cultural, and community contexts as resources, rather than barriers, for mathematics teaching and learning requires explicit emphasis in mathematics methods courses (Aguirre et al., 2013; Civil, 2007; Foote, 2009).
Developing an ethical practice for advocacy in mathematics education starts with a strong foundation set in mathematics methods courses and their field experiences. Mathematics methods courses in effective programs provide beginning teachers with opportunities to develop their own stances related to the concept of ethical practice, through such tools as The Mirror Test, a series of critical-reflection questions about ethical obligations to students (Gutiérrez, 2016). Moreover, effective teacher preparation programs assess the ethical practice needed by beginning teachers to inform and improve mathematics instruction.
The development of this ethical practice for advocacy cannot be accomplished in isolation but necessitates collaboration with multiple communities, including face-to-face and virtual communities, to provide candidates needed resources, advice, models, and emotional support to engage in this demanding work. Effective programs provide candidates multiple opportunities to develop knowledge and skills necessary for ethical practices to take action and advocate for students in multiple ways and various settings.