Essential skills for a math teacher

Education Week has an interesting article about the uncertainties about the skills that are needed to be a successful mathematics teacher. The point of departure for the article is the recent report by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel in the U.S. The report has several suggestions about the curriculum, cognition, instruction, etc. When it comes to the skills that are needed to become a good mathematics teacher, though, the answers were fewer:

Research does not show conclusively which professional credentials demonstrate whether math teachers are effective in the classroom, the report found. It does not show what college math content and coursework are most essential for teachers. Nor does it show what kinds of preservice, professional-development, or alternative education programs best prepare them to teach.

One of the panel members, Deborah Loewenberg Ball, was interviewed in the article, and she believed that it was in the area of improving teaching that the emphasis should be set in the years to come:

“We should put a lot of careful effort over the next decade into this issue so that we can be in a much different place 10 years from now.”

There appears to be a lot of work and research to do within this area. There is much agreement that the teacher is important, and the quality of the math teacher has an impact on the students’ results.

But the 90-page report also says it is hard to determine what credentials and training have the strongest effect on preparing math teachers to teach, and teach well. Research has not provided “consistent or convincing” evidence, for instance, that students of certified math teachers benefit more than those whose teachers do not have that licensure, it found.

So, the question that Ball and her team has focused a lot on in their research still remains important for researchers in the future: What kind of knowledge is it that teachers need?

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