Why New Mathematics Teachers Do or Don’t Use Practices Emphasized in their Credential Program

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Published: 
Sep. 01, 2012

Source: Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, Vol. 15, Issue 5, October 2012, p. 359–379.

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study investigated the factors that credential program's graduates perceived to support or impede their implementation of certain university-taught practices.
The study addressed to the following research questions:
- To what degree do recent graduates implement program-emphasized teaching practices in their classrooms?
- What factors support or constrain the implementation of these practices?

Participants
The participants were 19 graduates of Northridge’s secondary-mathematics-credential program in California State University.

Program applicants must demonstrate subject-matter competency through an undergraduate mathematics major or state examination; the program includes no mathematics courses per se. Student teaching occurs in the final two semesters, in a middle and high school, respectively.
Besides the student-teaching seminars, only the one-semester methods course is mathematics specific.
These participants were in their first through 4th year of teaching.
Each was observed teaching one lesson and then interviewed during 2006–2007 and 2008–2009 school years.

Discussion

The teachers in this study portrayed the credential program as the most significant factor promoting their use of the Practices.
These teachers learned and valued practical tools in their early years and expected that continued growth would take the form of increasing accomplishment and comfort with the use of these tools, in more situations.

In addition, professional-development activities designed to impart conceptual tools felt useful to these teachers to the degree that they supplied practical tools for immediate use.
Similarly, university courses were often valued by these teachers for the practical tools they offered (e.g., specific lesson plans), even when the instructors had intended these practical tools only to illustrate concepts.
However, the teachers had difficulty generating practical tools from general concepts.
This study shows that without significant accompanying practical training, their ability to capitalize on those concepts is severely constrained.

Is the difficulty of reform to blame?
The reform-oriented methods promoted in universities may fundamentally differ from traditional practices in that the latter can be carried out by following scripts, textbooks, and other widely available resources, while the former require some degree of teacher generation and adaptation.

However, this study shows that materials at hand and local efforts to institutionalize reform practices facilitate their uptake by new teachers.
Thus, the argument that reform-oriented teaching is more challenging may be unnecessary to explain its rarity.
 

Are ‘‘two worlds’’ to blame?
The finding that the most consistently cited support for adopting the Practices was learning about them in the credential program is heartening for universities.
The comments of these teachers suggest that they graduated with a strong foundational knowledge of the Practices, the belief that these Practices represented good teaching, and the desire to employ at least some of them.
Very few participants depicted any aspect of the credential program as useless or inappropriate for their current teaching, and several have returned to us for masters degrees.

Programmatic implications
The findings of this study suggest that both university and employing school play crucial roles, and changes in both arenas would facilitate the uptake of such practices.
Credential programs can build a strong and necessary foundation for teaching, but this foundation is insufficient for most graduates to implement the Practices in the field.
The sentiments of this study’s participants imply that programs should structure in more opportunities to use these Practices.

Updated: Apr. 02, 2014
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