Moving Beyond Sinking or Swimming: Reconceptualizing the Needs of Beginning Mathematics Teachers
by Marcy B. Wood, Lisa M. Jilk & Lynn Webster Paine - 2012
Background/Context: New teacher induction programs frequently focus on the struggles of teachers who are, metaphorically speaking, sinking rather than swimming in the challenging waters of actual classroom teaching. Also, research on induction and induction programs doesn’t typically address the subject-specific needs of new teachers. Yet new teachers are not in generic environments in which content plays a minor role: They are negotiating the enormously complex context of teaching particular content to particular students in a particular moment.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: Our goal is to add to and challenge the conversations about what learning to teach mathematics requires and how its complexity makes content-specific induction and rich opportunities to learn not only desirable but also essential. We use a framing of teaching as a practice that is fundamentally about connection of students and content.
Population/Participants/Subjects: We report on the cases of two well-started novice mathematics teachers. These cases come from a larger study of novice mathematics and science teachers in subject-specific induction programs across the United States.
Research Design: Exploratory case study based on interviews and observations.
Findings/Results: One new teacher made considerable progress in thinking about and using knowledge of students to enhance mathematical learning. However, there were still several areas in which the new teacher missed opportunities to probe student understanding and further connect students to mathematics. And yet, because of the teacher’s competence relative to other new teachers, her support from her mentor was diminishing. This left her with few opportunities for support in reflecting on her practice. The second new teacher struggled to make sense of the role of the teacher. She was a strong beginning teacher in a context that provided support and encouragement for student-centered teaching. However, she struggled to envision and enact a teaching role that either allowed students to make their own connections to mathematics or enabled her to learn how to work toward that role.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Our two new teachers made considerable progress in their teaching. Although there was much to celebrate about their progress, there was still much about the complexity of teaching, specifically teaching math, that the new teachers had to learn. This study suggests that we need to go beyond evaluation of visible performance or attention to instructional strategies to help new teachers think about how to simultaneously manage the complex relationships with students, with mathematical content, and with the connection between students and mathematics in ways that help them to continually teach and learn from teaching.
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