President Linda M. Gojak
NCTM Summing Up, January 2, 2014
I have a
colleague who entered teaching after many years in another profession. She
teaches middle school mathematics in an urban setting. Her class is culturally
and economically diverse. She has spent her teaching career in the same school
and has witnessed many changes in the community in which the school is located.
Having had many opportunities to collaborate with her, I both admire and envy
the professionalism that she brings to her classroom and her colleagues. What
is it about her that makes her an excellent mathematics teacher as well as an effective
advocate for her students and her colleagues?
characteristics make a mathematics teacher a true professional? How do we build
a culture of professionalism in our classrooms, our schools, and our districts?
Although many teachers are naturals in the classroom, most of us put a great
deal of effort into growing toward excellence throughout our careers. It is
likely that those who make it look easy are those who work the hardest!
professionals are lifelong learners. Formal educational experiences are only
the beginning. High-quality professional development offerings must be available
to teachers—and professional teachers regularly take advantage of them to
develop and improve their teaching practice. Focusing on building deeper
mathematical content knowledge within and beyond the grade band that teachers
teach provides the foundation for a better understanding of the mathematical
connections among topics and across grade levels. Increasing pedagogical knowledge,
putting new instructional ideas into practice and reflecting on the impact that
those strategies have on student learning are common to all professional
teachers. The often-overlooked professional growth opportunity is attending to
student thinking, including exploring how students develop mathematical ideas and
apply their understanding—and considering how we can develop an instructional
toolbox to ensure that all students deeply understand the mathematics that they
networking is another avenue for lifelong learning. The Internet has introduced
many diverse opportunities for professional networking. Some are highly conducive
to and supportive of professional growth—others not so much. Membership and
involvement in professional organizations, such as your local Affiliate, state Affiliate,
and NCTM, offer you a plethora of professional materials and the opportunity to
network with colleagues outside your school or district. Think about the
saying, “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting
what you’ve always gotten.” Sharing ideas with teachers outside you immediate
school environment can open doors to new and exciting ideas.
professionals do not close the classroom door and teach. Rather, they are
important contributors to professional learning communities in their schools. Effective
communities of practice can take many different forms. They might consist of
mathematics teachers from a grade level, a vertical team, or a group of
colleagues, including classroom teachers, administrators, university
mathematics educators, and mathematicians. Together, they collaborate on
effective teaching practices and move toward understanding how students are
learning. They examine and analyze student work. They discuss student
misconceptions and how to address them. They plan lessons and support one
another in teaching them, whether through formal lesson study or by co-teaching
a lesson. Professionals work together to improve their practice and to improve
the success of their students.
takes many forms. We are all leaders in our classrooms. Our students look up to
us and take direction from both our teaching and our actions. As the teaching
profession continues to recognize the importance of collaborative structures to
ensure excellence, opportunities for supporting colleagues both in and out of
the school setting are becoming more plentiful. Professionalism demands that we
step out of our personal space. Mentor a new teacher or a teacher who is new to
a grade level. Form an after-school book club that reads and discusses an
article from a professional journal or a book on a topic of interest. As more
districts move to classroom coaching, consider taking on this role to help
support other classroom teachers. Master teachers often take on leadership
roles in facilitating professional development.
advocate for students. Although parents, administrators, and others have the
best intentions, no one knows students’ academic needs as well as masterful
teachers. Lifelong learning opportunities, collaboration, and leadership help to
inform important decisions about student learning and success and show us how
we can work better with parents and administrators.
standards era has brought urgency to advocating at the local, state, and
national levels. As professionals, we must work together to share information on
mathematics education with parents and with numerous decision makers—administrators,
boards of education, and legislators—to ensure that they do what is best for
think about my friend and what makes her truly a professional, I see many of
the characteristics described above. The arrival of the new year is a good time
for each of us to take stock on our own professionalism and think about what we
can do to support our students and to support the most noble profession—teaching.