mathinaz

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 19 2012

A Wish for Math PD

I have never seen a reading teacher be required to sit through a mathematics professional development, because that would just be silly.

I’ve never seen a social studies teacher sent to a math PD, even though they could learn how to teach the concepts of proportions and scales in their maps units, or how timelines connect with students’ understanding of number lines.

I’ve never seen a science teacher forced to attend a math PD, even though their content is deeply based in mathematics. In sixth grade alone, our science teachers need to be able to teach the concept of variables and substituting for them, evaluating expressions, solving equations, finding volume, the concept of negative numbers, and probably much more.

I’ve rarely even seen a MATH teacher required to attend a math PD, even though that’s the content we teach EVERY DAY, even though its deeply hard to teach really well, and even though we’re on the standardized tests just as much as reading is.

 

I am so tired of getting sent to literacy professional development sessions. Tell me why I spent 2 hours after school today listening to someone teach me how to structure a reading class? Tell me what’s supposed to be useful for me about selecting books at the right lexile levels? Tell me why I need to know the difference between “rigorous” and “hard” novels to read?

I know literacy is fundamentally important, and I won’t argue with it being more important than anything else. My kids can’t pass a math standardized test if they can’t read and understand the questions, and that’s really all the motivation I need to be invested in this. I’ve been working really, really hard on including content literacy in my class this year. The English teacher is helping me teach my kids strategies for approaching reading in math. I explicitly teach vocabulary, both for content (“That was a great answer, but can someone say it better using a word from the word wall?”) and for process (“Below is a math problem, but the directions are missing the verb. Fill in the blank with a verb from the word box below.”) Every Friday, we spend the class learning how to write a rubric-graded description of how we solved a problem and why. I make my kids think and talk about math every single day. (“What did he do? Why did she do that? Do you agree with that answer? How do you know? Where is the mistake? As the teacher, why did I decide to teach it this way? How do you think someone else could get this problem wrong? Why is this important? What does this remind you of?”) This is not the griping of a math teacher who doesn’t value literacy. I know I need it, I know I want it, and I know it’s important in my classroom. But I still need help doing it right, and yet all the training I get is viciously useless.

 

They tell us, “Reading is the cornerstone of everything. We are all reading teachers. Reading needs to be taught in every class, every day.” I hear their point, but I have to disagree. The English, Science, and Social Studies teachers are welcome to be reading teachers (thanks, guys!), but I’m actually here to be a math teacher. I’m trying to get kids stretching their brains in entirely different ways, as they learn to analyze and problem solve and be creative and be precise. There are kids who never shine in reading but should be able to thrive in the world of mathematics. And if we want to bring up the whole failing-in-international-test-scores and look-where-the-jobs-are arguments, I think people should be okay if I put aside my role as “reading teacher” and start focusing on my role as math teacher.

 

So please, STOP making me go to “content literacy” professional development that is really just all about reading. Let me go to PD that admits how entirely different literacy looks in the math classroom and teaches me how to be successful with that. If you don’t know how to help me there, then either find someone who does or let me go to PD that’s just about teaching math itself. Quit pretending this is all the same thing; it doesn’t make me feel better when you throw in the occasional well-intentioned but never-explained “Even in math! Teach your kids how to read the way mathematicians read!”

 

After today’s PD, I asked my principal for $600 and 3 days off to attend the annual National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference in April. I nicely told him that I would like the opportunity to actually go learn something relevant. He looked at my face and realized it wasn’t a good idea to say no right away, so I’ve got my fingers crossed….

5 Responses

  1. Lucas

    I love the phrase “viciously useless.” I wonder what “lexile level” that is.

  2. T

    In my grad school, we had a lot of coursework about incorporating multidisciplinary work into our classrooms (I’m not a math teacher). We also had to come up with a bunch of lessons that incorporated various other subjects into our own subject. In our literacy courses, we were taught to include lessons such as how to read graphs and charts in English class, or how to interpret data to make sense of something in Social Studies.

    In my experience, my graduate classes did a much better job of helping me to incorporate math into my lessons, or to at least provide the option of analyzing charts/data/statistics to my more mathematically-inclined students. Professional development has never helped me out with that. Gotta love programs implemented by administrators who never spent more than a few years in a classroom and are out of touch with teachers’ needs!

    I’m sorry you’ve had to sit through so much irrelevant PD! Hopefully you’ll get to that conference!

  3. Marie G

    I love you for what you DO do to teach your kids reading. Please don’t stop. Please. And also, know that somewhere a few hundred miles away, I DO make my kids calculate their grades, find percentages for summaries, teach multiplication between class periods, and make my kids show their work when they keep score. It’s not much, but I try. I wouldn’t mind math PD myself.
    Sincerely,
    A reading teacher.

  4. Waste-of-time professional developments are way too common, and literacy-related one seem to often be especially terrible. My theory is that it’s because reading is a very complicated skill, but administrators are always looking for a quick fix, and those quick fixes are invariably dumb, hence so are the PDs.

    That said, I am not a reading teacher but I am 100% on board with “every teacher is a reading teacher” phrase they bandy about…it really is a core skill for just about everything. I don’t grade for English skills in content area classes (doesn’t seem fair) except where they directly impact content area performance (say, truly unintelligible or inadvertently misleading lab reports) but if I can build language development into a content area activity I don’t see a downside there. We just need to develop more ways to include reading in such a way that it complements and supports content area material, rather than taking instructional time away from it.

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