Elementary math stumps teachers

Elementary schools are adding math specialists, reports the Washington Post. Too many elementary teachers didn’t like math when they were in school, took very little in college and don’t understand it well enough to explain concepts like place value to children.

. . . elementary teachers must understand enough algebra, geometry and probability to see how beginning skills link to more complex ones, educators say. To tackle abstract math in middle school — a major goal for educators nationwide — students should be comfortable with whole numbers and fractions. Many adults have trouble with the latter.

The reporter is writing a blog on her experiences retaking Algebra II in high school.

About Joanne


  1. Richard Nieporent says:

    This is simply mindboggling. Explain to me again why we have hired these people to teach if they don’t understand simple math.

  2. I think that they understand simple math. The problem is that they don’t understand the ways in which simple math lays a foundation for more complex math. They teach as they were taught, lacking a deeper understanding.

  3. To Margo/Mom:

    “They teach as they were taught”? This is a sad commentary on the subject matter competence of those who are accepted by teacher training institutions; the institutions that certify the competence of their graduates; and the governmental teacher licensing bodies that grant elementary school teaching credentials to these individuals.

  4. Physics Teacher says:

    I have a friend who teaches in the Bronx and he tells me that COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY TEACHERS COLLEGE sends over these “math coaches” who are unable even to add two fractions together or to convert a fraction to a decimal. This illustrates the problem perfectly: the triumph of “pedagogy” over content.

    Our education problems start with education schools, and it is these that deserve serious purging.

  5. ““They teach as they were taught”?

    But it’s true.

    The subject matter is taught the way it is taught in college because a university mathematician is faced with designing calculus courses for 5000 engineering and business majors and only a hand full of math majors. If he stopped to teach the underlying concepts of calculus for future teachers and math majors rather than calculations there would be a protest from those that provide the bread and butter (not the math majors) of the department.

    So even at the university level math classes aren’t taught rigorously until after all the calculus classes are over and it’s no longer a service class.

    Joanne’s link before to the reporter retaking algebra II provided an example of “FOIL” as if that were some sort of concept in algebra. It isn’t. It’s a mneumonic device. The teacher didn’t ask, “Do any of you remember the distributive law? How can we make use of this property to find the product of polynomials?” Instead she asked them if they knew “FOIL”. Students leaving such a class which stress short cuts and tricks to remembering how to solve for x may have all sorts of technical proficiency with math in an applied situation, but won’t have any “profound understanding of fundamental mathematics.” Once these students are in college they may not get it there either since the goal of algebra in college is not for the student to state the properties of numbers which make cross multiplication possible or why multiplying two negatives results in a positive, but to speed you off to engineering calculus as fast as possible.

    If Calculus were taught any other way the engineering majors would be juniors before they could take their first classes in their majors. This is much bigger than teacher licensing bodies and departments of education.

    “I am probably not saying anything that H Wu hasn’t said.”

    Me neither.

  6. Actually, I didn’t mean to imply that elementary teachers were teaching as they were taught in college, but that they were reaching back to their elementary years. El Ed teachers don’t have degrees in mathematics–they have degrees in education. This shows up as a particular problem in middle school–where many teachers are K-8 certified (generalists). I believe that some states have moved to required content level certification at this level–but we will continue to have teachers who were “grandfathered” in for some time. Teachers of special education–ones that one would really want to be more highly certified–present even more of a problem as many are certified as k-12 generalists, but have been able to buy their way in (through PD, etc) to a “highly qualified” status so that their “special ed” class can now be called “Algebra.”

  7. Sister Howitzer says:

    When my daughter was in 1st grade and I started to educate myself on the math wars, I spent some time talking to our district’s Curriculum Director. He told me the reason they needed to use Investigations was that most teachers don’t understand math past 5th grade math (his words), and this curriculum was helping them (meaning the teachers- not the kids) understand math better. I didn’t believe it at the time. After several years of observing how my kids were taught math, I believe it now.

    One example: In 3rd grade my daughter brought home a division worksheet that included some problems of whole numbers divided by zero. My daughter had left them blank, not knowing the word “undefined”, but knowing that there was no answer. They were counted wrong. I sent the teacher a note asking about it, but didn’t hear anything back. These worksheets continued to come home, and I sent her a link explaining why we can’t divide by zero. When the worksheets continued to come home, I went and asked her about it. She responded that she had always used these worksheets (homemade) and nobody else had complained, so they must be okay. She had not read the link and was not interested in hearing anymore about it. She also told me math was never really her thing, and even if I was right, it was a minor detail, and didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. She had a total lack of intellectual curiosity about it.

    I was horrified.

    Don’t even get me started on the gifted class teacher.

  8. I have a graduate degree in economics from the University of Chicago and worked as a management consultant for a major consulting firm. I am generally pretty good with numbers.

    Two weeks ago I want to a school board meeting where the chairman of the math department for the middle school made a presentation replete with errors including the most basic mathematical calculations. Even after I explained the errors to him he remained “unconvinced” and did not see why there was a big difference between,say, a 25% growth in test scores over three years and a 54% growth in test scores in two years. The irony of all this being that the guy who could not do basic math was claiming responsibility for some “miraculous” improvements in test scores. For example, after DECADES of low-performance, he claimed that minority test scores at his schools jumped 50% in 2 years.

    I posted about this over on Kitchen Table Math: http://tinyurl.com/6566l7

  9. Richard,

    I can think of two simple reasons:

    1. No one else would take the job
    2. No one else was willing to fulfill the criteria for getting the job

    And perhaps other people can think of more.

  10. pm:

    I think it is a bit more complicated than that. We tend to overproduce teachers in this country. We accept many more candidates than necessary and set the requirements quite low. There are several phenomenon that tend to drive this. One is history. It use to be that there were only about two professions available to women–teaching and nursing. That changed, taking away a number of the best and the brightest and leaving the most dedicated along with those having fewest other options. In nursing, which has always had high entrance criteria, this resulted in a shortage–which drove the pay scale upwards, spurred some restructuring of duties and attracted more men to the field. In education (which by the way is a much less expensive degree to provide) we have continued to turn out great numbers of teachers of varying quality. And we think that as long as they know more than a fifth grader, that is enough. Schools of education are something of a cash cow to universities–they’ll take anybody (‘s money) and turn them out with a credential in four years or so. They leave it up to the districts to separate the wheat from the chaff.

  11. Myrtle,

    No one is stopping college math departments from having special calculus classes for math majors.

    Don’t math, engineering and science departments use the standard calculus class it to weed out the unmotivated?

    Many of the college math majors I knew had real difficulty with Analysis of Functions of a Real Variable when they took it their senior year. I was in class with them. I was not a math major.

    If the underlying principals of calculus were taught to educators they would have a very rough time of it.

    My recollection is hazy but I recall:

    number theory
    finite sequences
    infinite sequences
    convergence and divergence of a sequence
    finite series
    infinite series
    convergence and divergence of an infinite series

    We have not reached derivatives yet.

    How many education majors would get this far? Do they really need to be able to prove the fundamental theorem of calculus?

    I knew Lycee (French College prep high school) students who took elementary calculus on a near Real Analysis level. It is possible, but the Lycee was reserved for the upper 5% of the French school population.

  12. I have a lot of mixed feelings about the subject of elementary school math, but not much knowledge. I have a little experience teaching 7th and 8th grade math, but that was many years ago. I like the ideal that anyone teaching any math at all has had at least a semester or two of calculus in college. But that doesn’t seem likely to become the norm any time soon. And, to be honest, I’m not sure knowing some advanced math has much to do with being a good teacher of math at the lower levels.

    I do think it is true that there is a lot to be known about the teaching of math at the lower levels, a lot that has nothing to do with knowing calculus. But I realize that statement is an invitation for the ed school argument to be brought in, the argument that teachers need to take a lot of methods courses. So I’ll hasten to add that whatever there is to be known about the teaching of arithmetic, ed school doesn’t know it. At least I am not aware of any evidence that they do.

    I don’t claim to know how to effectively teach arithmetic. However I do think it is true that a great many elementary school teachers (perhaps a majority, perhaps not) do know how to teach arithmetic. They do it everyday and they do it well. Their students learn. But I think they mostly know how to do it in an intuitive way. They are no better than ed school professors in critically analyzing and explaining what they do. If this is the case, then it would seem there is no “reform” that can be legislated or imposed from above by administrative action that will effectively improve the teaching of math in elementary school. Call me a cynic, but that is indeed my perspective.

    I don’t know much, but I have put together a few thoughts on the mathematics curriculum, which includes some related thoughts on methodology. Here’s a link. The Mathematics Curriculum

  13. I will limit my comments to elementary (general credential) teachers. I couldn’t agree more with Physics Teacher. Myrtle: the University of California offers “Calculus for Non-Science Majors” courses. I can’t speak for other universities. Margo: California requires mastery of content before issuing a “single subject credential” as demonstrated by (1)majoring in the subject or (2) passing a rigorous exam in the subject. Those who aren’t familiar with the “math wars”: these were the clash between “constructivist” versus “traditional” teaching of math in the early ’90s. The former wanted students to “discover” math concepts (such as the Pythagorean theorem)on their own or in groups, using aids such as “manipulatives,” and emphasizing process over substance (i.e, no “right” or “wrong” answers); the latter thought it more efficient and effective to teach students content (e.g., the proof of the Pythagorean theorem) using traditional methods w/ definite right or wrong answers.

  14. Just a clarification: single subject credentials are required to teach the subject in a departmentalized setting (e.g.,, high school). Elementary school teachers get a general credential here in CA.

  15. Are teachers really that stupid?

  16. Margo/Mom,

    So you bring up one point I’m not clear on. You state that we overproduce teachers in this country — you’re not the first person I’ve heard this from. However, I’ve read many news stories that say there are not enough credentialed teachers in CA. So these news stories lead me to believe that we don’t produce enough teachers, at least not enough of the kind that actually take jobs and stick with the profession. So any opinions on how to resolve this apparent contradiction?

  17. I always got good grades and standardized test scores in math growing up. But it’s only since I’ve been homeschooling my DD using the “Right Start Mathematics” program (which is similar to Singapore Math but with scripted lessons) that I actually get the underlying concepts. I could always calculate the correct answer but never really understood WHY the formulas worked. Now that I’m teaching the Right Start way, the light bulb has finally gone off for me.

  18. We produce many teachers, but they don’t distribute evenly. Too many elementary school teachers, PE teachers, English teachers. Not enough special ed., math, high school science. And a large number wash out in the first three years (for whatever reason). I’ve always thought the bar for ed school should be set higher, but the universities like the $$ too much.

    While helping my step-daughter look for a job last week, I saw a basic secretarial job that pays more now than my salary will be in the next ten years. With no homework. I was tempted. (The whole summers off thing really isn’t that great once your kids are old enough that it isn’t a childcare issue. I end up working on lesson plans and curriculum all summer anyway — without pay. And who wants to be outside when it is 104 degrees?) Alas, I like my job.

    I took through Calc II in college. It wasn’t that hard. Made B’s with so-so effort. I’ve never taught any math except for a little bit of tutoring (negative numbers are a big hangup for a lot of kids), although I have threatened to do “math across the curriculum” by just giving the kids their raw numbers and having them calculate their own grades with the weighted categories, etc.

  19. Ed schools see nothing wrong with students who cannot do math because the average ed school professor is not very good in math. At the college where I teach, the ed school students have the lowest ACT/SAT scores and many fail the Math section of the Praxis I that ed majors must take and pass to be admitted into that department. (If they don’t pass, the Chair of the department waives the test.) The ed students must take only one course in math to graduate from the college or to become a teacher at either the elementary or middle school level. In that course, they learn no math and spend most of the course playing with blocks because the instructor is an ed school professor, not a math professor.

    If you’re looking to the ed schools to change this situation, forget it. These schools will not change and are arrogantly proud that they will not. If you want to change it, shut down the ed schools and take away the monopoly that the state has for licensing teachers.

  20. but the universities like the $$ too much.

    So we have colleges producing pooly prepared teachers because it is profitable for the colleges?

  21. Nice sesationalist title, both from the WaPo author and Joanne, but after reading the article I didn’t see any facts stating elementary math stumps teachers.

  22. pm

    I suspect that colleges are overproducing teachers because they need to fill the large number of lost jobs that happen when good graduates flee from the field after getting to know the business.

  23. I’m not surprised.

    These stories remind of the time I had an argument with a high school Physics teacher after a meeting; he joked that he managed to get his 8-12 Science Education degree “and managed to avoid taking a Calculus class” and then, while telling everyone one of his “success stories” (i.e., getting a student interested in Science) explaining to the student *why weight is not a force*.

    Yes, *why weight is not a force*.

    When I corrected him after the meeting – in the most kindhearted, walking-on-eggshells way, I might add – I was told by the principal, “He’s teaching in the Science department, you’re teaching in the Math department. If he says that weight is not a force, then it is NOT a force.”

    All I can end this comment with is that I’ve never met a K-12 principal that wasn’t a combination of a politician and Dilbert’s boss…

  24. tim-10-ber says:

    all the more reason to eliminate the worthless ed degree in college and require teachers to have a solid liberal arts degree with an emphasis on math, english, science and history in order to teach. oh yeah, that is the basis of a liberal arts degree — ed knowledge, classroom management, etc should be the minor

  25. Lightly Seasoned: There’s a simple reason why teachers aren’t distributed evenly: supply and demand. It’s a lot more difficult to get degrees in math or science and, as a result, these individuals are “underproduced” relative to humanities (including English) and social science majors. Moreover, their learning and skills are in high demand in the private sector, so they have higher-paid alternatives to teaching. Special ed is a somewhat different story, but I suspect that these teachers are “underproduced” because it’s a difficult, demanding job relative to teaching non-special ed pupils.

    The obvious solution is to provide differential pay for these individuals, until the compensation is sufficiently high to attract the needed number of QUALIFIED persons into teaching. Such a solution, however, is anathema to teacher unions which ignore this basic economic reality and instead insist that all should be paid the same because all (except special ed teachers) work in the same environment and teach the same kinds of kids. Therefore, “a teacher is a teacher is a teacher.”

  26. Lightly Seasoned says:

    RMR/Dad: I’m not dumb — I know the reasons behind the disparities. But I’ll be goddamned if a math teacher is going to make more than me for doing the same work. Actually, less work. Math teachers, because of the nature of the material, tend to need to do a lot less planning and grading to be effective. I don’t think I’ve seen our AP Calc teacher take home a single paper in about 10 years, and his scores are great. He’s a great teacher. I’m an absolute slave to my AP Lit course to get the same scores.

    FWIW, I’m really sick and tired of the union cliche. They are just not that powerful. Less than half the teachers in my district are even members of the our NEA.

  27. I don’t usually agree with Margo, but she’s quite correct that teachers these days are the extremely dedicated or the under-qualified.

    Colleges make a fortune from teacher education; it’s a cash cow. Best of all, they aren’t educated by professors, for the most part, but by working teachers. So their instructors are cheap, too.

    As for math teachers, you don’t need to have a math major to be a math teacher, at least in California. All you have to do is pass the single subject CSET. Once I get my MaEd next June, god willing, I will be qualified to teach in math, social science and English.

    Math and science teachers get loan forgiveness, which is a small form of additional compensation. English and history teachers only get loan forgiveness in Title I schools.

    The money’s fine in teaching, from what I can tell. I looked at the salaries and laughed. What are you fools complaining about? It’s light work and lots of time off. (Of course, the idiocy of paying by education means that I will be getting paid for 90 units of post-grad work and two masters, which puts me at the far right of the compensation charts.)

    “The obvious solution is”

    Stop there. Ain’t no “obvious solutions” in teaching. And math ain’t all that much work. Anyone who is good enough to get a well-paid job out in the real world should not be wasting his time teaching. For the most part, we should have our also-rans doing the teaching. Anyone who is mulling a secretarial job as a step up is probably the lowest level we want, but not much higher.

  28. The reason that the market demands that Math & Science teachers get paid more is because their *skills* are more rarely found in the marketplace, and more in demand. Not because they do more or less work at the ‘same’ job of teaching.

    The simple truth is, English, Social Studies, teachers in the Arts, and coaches are a dime a dozen, because those degrees are so much easier to obtain than degrees in Math or Science.

    For example, why does Kobe Bryant make so much more money than a Lakers’ bench player? They’re basically doing the ‘same’ job. Simple economics.

    Also, if it’s just the ‘same’ job in the end, why don’t you try teaching a high school level Math or Physics class? Think you could do it? Do you think your fellow high school level Math or Physics teachers could easily teach Social Studies or English? You may not like the answer you come up with…

  29. Vandal, having majored in chemical engineering for a couple of years, I have no doubt I could teach high school chemistry. Math is just not that difficult (alas, also not that interesting for me).

    Kobe Bryant makes more money because he brings in more money to the franchise. If test scores were money, I’m a star player.

  30. Why didn’t you finish your degree in Chemical Engineering? What major did you end up switching to?

  31. The problem is the laughable standards we hold teachers to. I had the dubious privilege of taking the Illinois Test of Basic Skills last weekend. This is the first of two or three standardized tests all future teachers in the state of Illinois are required to take. This test is the one that covers reading comprehension, grammar, math, and basic writing skills (i.e. constructing an argument, using punctuation, paragraph structure). The math section tops out at algebra, with most of the questions requiring much less advanced math.

    Originally I was irked that they wouldn’t just take SAT scores and that I had to shell out $80 for yet another standardized test. Upon finding out what is required to pass the Basic Skills test, I moved from crankiness to somewhere between outrage and slack-jawed horror. Reading comp and grammar require a subscore of 50% or better each. For the writing sample 5 out of 12 points. For math? 35%. Thirty-five percent?!?! Since I happen to have a very strong math background, I can tell you that if you were just guessing on a multiple choice test with four possible responses like the BST, you would (on average) get 25% just for showing up and bubbling in.

    If this is the standard we are holding our teachers to, of course we are going to get teachers who are incompetent in the most basic math skills.

  32. “I’m not dumb — I know the reasons behind the disparities. But I’ll be goddamned if a math teacher is going to make more than me for doing the same work.”

    Spoken like a true believer if the union label. And, one of the many reasons that the teaching profession is so resistant to improvement.

  33. susan engler says:

    I am really bothered by many of the comments here. I teach in Vermont where we have very clear and well developed Grade Expectations and I am expected and do continue to take challenging graduate math courses which help me to develop strategies for kids in all areas of the third and fourth grade curriculum. It is always a combination of deeper thinking, portfolio problems, math fluency, using helpful manipulatives (such as balances for algebra and fraction study; the list goes on and on. It absolutely drives me crazy to hear comments by people who do not live and work everyday in the classroom. And to the man who talked about the “ease” of the job, I get to work at 7, leave at 5, work a couple hours every night and several on the weekend. Please get more informed before you spout off about teachers and their work.

  34. Susan–as I recall, Vermont is somewhat ahead of the curve. The Vermont Mathematics Initiative was launched to provide challenging math classes to elementary teachers, for exactly the reasons that many have cited.

    LS–“I’ll be goddamned if a math teacher is going to make more than me for doing the same work.” Even if that means that kids are taught math by someone teaching outside their area of certification? If all things were equal, the added incentive would produce a surplus of qualified math teachers in a short time. But the folks who graduate with credentials in teaching mathematics actually enter college with higher SATs in math (than non-math discipline credentialled teachers, including elementary ed). Perhaps you have another solution?

  35. Susan Engler, I have no reason to doubt you work long hours if you say you do. But that’s not the norm at the school across the street (nice suburban school in Michigan that meets AYP). As a matter of fact, those are longer hours than our principal usually keeps. He’s first in and last out.

    Regardless, do you work more than 180 days/year? In our district, teachers work about 170 days per year. I live across the street from an elementary and can see when teachers come and go. Most are gone within 30 minutes after the last bell. Most show up about 30 minutes before the first bell. I have no problem with that if they do their jobs well (most are pretty good teachers.)

    But most admit the “hours” are pretty nice.

  36. So, you all think teaching is so easy? Well, put your money where your mouth is!

    Many school districts hire substitutes to cover classes. Why don’t you go down to your local Board of Ed, sign up and call in sick to your day job for one day and try it out?

    Education is not about knowing how to do one process; it’s about knowing ALL the processes, concepts and related applications and sharing that in multiple ways so ALL learners can learn from their own perspective.

    I’m a math teacher in an elementary school. I teach remedial math to kids (and parents), and I have to use different approaches so everyone can understand the objective.
    I use manipulatives to get students to visualize what I am trying to explain. These are little cars, blocks, toys, whatever. Then I have kids explain it, and make their own idea or example for the other students to try. Then we might go to paper and pencil for drawing or to the symbolic number sentences if the students are ready. You cannot assume everyone has grown up with the same experiences or exposures to what seem to be commonplace ideas. I also include virtual images in my work, too. It is amazing what happens to kids when the actually ‘see’ what is happening. Yesterday I was explaining Parallel lines. We used my Promethean Computer Whiteboard. I had a picture of a rectangle on the board. Students came up and highlighted parallel sides, then I removed the rectangle, and lengthened the student’s lines to show how these lines will never cross. A simple idea, but when students do not come to school with the rich vocabulary able to access these abstract concepts, other modes become necessary, like a visual representation.

    Math is not like language arts. You miss a day of language arts, and you can still know enough to take that spelling test on Friday. But math is cumulative. Every concept rests on a successful lesson the day before (understood by ALL children) and every lesson is setting the stage for the next lesson. A child is out sick for a week, and he/she may never catch up. Parents must stay involved in the learning process to prevent problems.

    Go learn about the NCTM Process Standards for mathematics.
    And get actively involved in your local Board of Ed. (They are spending YOUR money.)

    And, what about pay? If teaching is so great, why do most teachers not live in the town they work in? Because they cannot afford it! I commute 45 miles one way, everyday, so I can live in a house like the one I was raised in. That’s not fair!

  37. Mrs. Lopez says:

    “Why don’t you go down to your local Board of Ed, sign up and call in sick to your day job for one day and try it out? ”

    I hope no one takes you up on that because that would be UNETHICAL. Calling in “sick” when one is not ill is lying. Working another job while cheating one’s employer is even more dishonest.

    I don’t know with whom you’re in a huff, PT, but most of us here do teach (or have taught) in some form or another.

  38. LightlySeasoned,

    There are many jobs out there, more than I’m familiar with. I have no idea how I’d ever decide what is a fair distribution of income among all the people who fulfill those jobs. My guess is there are lots of people who make more money than either you or I, and have to do less work to make that money. But I don’t spend my days thinking I’ll be goddamned if they continue to make more money than I do. My guess is that you don’t either. So why such a strong feeling about the person who has to work in the classroom next to you? Are you really sure you know everything that went into preparing for that job or everything that it takes to do that job? What about the simple possibility that you might be bored out of your mind doing that job? And if you find yourself thinking that a job is really interesting and the rewards seem really good, then you could always apply.

  39. Erin Johnson says:

    Susan Engler & PT – I don’t think that you have an easy job. And I think that it is wrong for the public to expect you (and every other teacher) both to know more and be more insightful than the standards and curricula developers. The standards are poor/unhelpful and the curricular materials used in the vast majority of our schools in no way could ever develop the quality mathematical thinking seen in the best schools around the world (e.g. Singapore).

    While it sounds as if you both put in substantial time, many of the items that you described to teach math are rather useless without an understanding of what principles the manipulatives are supposed to be reinforcing. The lack of knowledge regarding fundamental concepts is endemic to our schooling tradition and not just to a lack of poor teaching in ed schools.

    As much as you both are trying very hard, it is unlikely with any of the materials that you are using will in any way develop high quality math understanding and ability. Most of the math curricula used in the US is rather poor and the ones that insist that manipulatives alone or using multiple strategies will engender quality mathematical thinking are usually the worst.

    If you were so inclined and have more time than you probably do, Liping Ma does an excellent job of describing what fundamental concepts in arithmetic are necessary for transitioning to purely symbolic math and for practical guidance the best available, child-friendly elementary materials are Singapore math.

    But if you don’t have the time, please don’t waste your children’s time making pictures or moving blocks trying to represent concepts that they (and most US teachers) don’t understand. At least if they learn to be fluent in computation (whole numbers, fractions and decimals) they have some hope of progressing to algebra.

  40. Wolf: I didn’t stay in c.e. because I didn’t like it enough to spend the rest of my life doing it. I switched to English and worked for many years in public relations doing print work before going into teaching.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to judge teacher hours by when people arrive and leave. There are many days I’m out of there at the contracted time, but then spend three or four hours after dinner planning/grading. We do have a small amount of flexibility in that area (although not in when we get to go pee :)).

    pm: Have I been condescending to you in some way during this conversation:?

  41. susan engler says:

    Erin, I have heard great things about Singapore math and would love to try it; we are expected to do what our OSSU dictates, which is Everyday Math and Bridges Math. I have taught everything from Saxton to Silver Burdett and have never been happy with any one curriculum. I will definitely check out Singapore Math.

  42. LightlySeasoned,

    First I was addressing this statement:

    “But I’ll be goddamned if a math teacher is going to make more than me for doing the same work. Actually, less work.”

    If that was not you, then I’m sorry for the misguided statement.

    In regards to your question, I’ll take that to mean you think I have been to you.

    Seems like it wasn’t necessary for me to invoke basic principles, so if that is what bothered you I can only say that is a reflection of me and not you.

    If you were bothered by my questioning your judgement that math teachers work as hard as you do, then all I can say is that was meant as a challenge and not as condescension. I don’t find the judgement of a single teacher convincing, but perhaps by asking I would draw out a reference to something more convincing.

  43. Updating the last paragraph of last post to…

    If you were bothered by my questioning your judgement that math teachers — don’t — work as hard as you do, then all I can say is that was meant as a challenge and not as condescension. I don’t find the judgement of a single teacher convincing, but perhaps by asking I would draw out a reference to something more convincing.

  44. Erin Johnson says:

    Susan, – Good luck. The program is not highly expensive, readily available and I would strongly encourage you to take a look at it. At first glance, Singapore may seem like many other traditional math programs but if you can go through the entire grade 1-6 program, the depth of mathematical understanding becomes more apparent.

    In particular, the way that Singapore math uses bar graphs to teach students to solve complex, multi-step problems is outstanding. But without going through the entire series, it would be difficult to see why a 3rd/4th grade teacher would need to present the material using a bar graph until he/she could see how the 5th grade students use them to solve extremely difficult problems. Some of the 5th grade bar graph problems are more difficult than usually seen in Algebra.

    It is unfortunate that your OSSU dictates EM and BM as these programs try hard but ultimately fail at getting students to both understand the underlying math concepts and become fluent enough with computation to make the transition to the symbolic math seen in Algebra easily. (In Singapore math, the transition from expressing problems/operations with bar graphs to using variables is rather simple and obvious.)

  45. pm: I appreciate your clarification. I work with many excellent math teachers — some of the best in my state if you look at test scores. They freely claim they work much less than English teachers and will often taunt us (playfully, of course) about that. I’ve never seen any breakdown of hours per subject area or grade level. I admit I’d be spending a lot less time if I used a canned curriculum.

    FWIW, my building has no shortage of applicants when math positions open up. We had 30 something last year for two slots.

    Please understand I love my job; if I didn’t, I’d be doing something else. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions about what needs to be done to improve working conditions and learning conditions for the children. If Margo is right, and in order to be a great teacher one must be a sort of martyr (I think that’s somewhat hyperbolic), then something is deeply, deeply wrong. We are never going to find enough martyrs to staff our schools.

  46. “If Margo is right, and in order to be a great teacher one must be a sort of martyr (I think that’s somewhat hyperbolic), then something is deeply, deeply wrong. ”

    I’m sorry–where did that come from?

  47. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Margo: might have been from edwonkette or another thread. I thought I might be in the wrong context when I posted it… sorry… brain doesn’t always thread properly.

  48. For the record, I would say that both martyrdom and missionary work provide poor impulses for professional teaching.

  49. Good teachers get martyred all the time; it’s almost common practice ini K-12 public schools in the U.S.

    Why? Because the principals see good teachers as potentital threats to their jobs! Either by (1) directly taking their jobs one day, or (2) making them and their Ed School fad-based choices look bad.

    Either way, a ‘successful’ principal in a K-12 public school in the U.S. needs to have teachers just mediocre enough and miserable enough to get scores that are good, but not mind-blowingly great, on state mandated exams, and not want to risk their paycheck by challenging the status quo.

    Of course, many good teachers that don’t get martyred are just made miserable, on purpose, until they either “know their place” or quit…


  1. […] Elementary math stumps teachers at Joanne Jacobs Too many elementary teachers didn’t like math when they were in school, took very little in college and don’t understand it well enough to explain concepts like place value to children. […]