by Cynthia Ballheim, for the Editorial Panel
May / June 2001
In the October 2000 issue of Mathematics Education Dialogues, we asked our readers four questions about in-service training.
- How valuable do you find short in-service sessions?
- Should college classes be required for in-service credit? Who best provides in-service training?
- Explain whether mathematical content, received either through in-service sessions or college classes, should be required for recertification of all teachers at all levels.
- Should in-service credit for attending curriculum association meetings be accepted?
Our readers strongly believe that short-term in-service sessions are valuable, but they do qualify that response. Our readers found that short-term in-service sessions are easier to attend, in part because the time commitment is not large. They also think that presenters generally get right to the point because of the time restriction. However, many readers believe that although this type of in-service education is better than nothing and does "raise awareness of issues," it really is valuable only as a spark that should be followed with close support of further staff development.
The overwhelming response to the second question was that college classes should not be required. The reasons given included that such classes are too expensive, too time-consuming, and too far "off the mark" from what teachers need. Readers unanimously agreed that those who could best provide in-service education were experienced teachers, since they would be knowledgeable about content, instructional strategies, and assessment. Approximately 90 percent of respondents believed that study involving mathematical content should be required for recertification. However, the mathematical content that most of our readers proposed was not the traditional type but instead involved such technology as computers or graphing calculators, innovative teaching methods, chaos theory, fractals, and statistics. Real-world applications were cited more than once. Our readers strongly believed that in-service credit should be awarded for attending curriculum association meetings. However, most readers believed that the association providing the in-service sessions, as well as the content of the sessions, was important. Some believed that credit should be given only for participating, not simply for attending, and that only a limited number of credits should be earned in this manner.
Here is what our readers had to say.
Question 1: How valuable do you find short in-service sessions?
They would be valuable if followed up with other continuing or related sessions. Short sessions are easier to schedule and are teacher-friendly but are not heavy enough in content.
Grade 2 Teacher, Pennsylvania
Short in-service sessions that are conducted by teachers who are competent in their fields are extremely helpful in assisting well-informed teachers in staying on the cutting edge of mathematics teaching.
Sister Alice Hess
Grades 9–12 Teacher, Pennsylvania
I prefer more in-depth sessions. Short sessions are usually generalized and more of an overview.
Grade 6 Teacher of Learning-Disabled Students, Massachusetts
It depends on the presenter, but usually the shorter the better.
Grade 7 Teacher, Michigan
Short in-service sessions are valuable if conducted by the proper people.
Retired Grades 9–12 Teacher, Connecticut
Depending on the topic, shorter, serious in-service courses are valuable. Longer ones lose our interest.
Leah Simon and Corey Simon
Grades 9–12 Teachers, Indiana
They are of minimal value, since they tend to reinforce a belief or pose a new one.
Grade 7 Teacher, Iowa
Short in-service sessions are very valuable because we gain teaching ideas in little time without having to find time for homework, other than all our homework of correcting papers, planning lessons, and so on.
Grades 10–12 Special Education Teacher, Washington
(Short) in-service sessions are usually worthless.
K–6 Teacher, Michigan
(Such) in-service sessions can be motivational, but the luster goes away within two weeks.
University Professor, Oregon
The value of such sessions varies widely—from the best two hours spent to a complete waste of time.
Grade 7 Teacher, Wisconsin
Short in-service sessions are very valuable. Sometimes in a busy schedule, a short session is all that I can handle. Learning little bits at a time is not overwhelming.
Grades 10–12 Teacher, Utah
As a staff developer, I have found that two-hour-long workshops are optimal. They include an opportunity for hands-on activities plus time for questions. Longer sessions tend to oversaturate the participants.
High School Staff Developer, New York
If the short in-service session is an in-depth extension of a previous topic, it is very valuable. If it is an introduction to a new topic, it is not valuable.
K–12 Consultant, Minnesota
Such sessions are valuable only if they can build on some common ground, perhaps on previous personal acquaintance with those who give the session.
Question 2: Should college classes be required for in-service credit? Who best provides in-service training?
The answer to this question depends on who is teaching. Really, something is wrong when people who do not currently teach in our classrooms come around telling us how it should be done. If they can do it so well, then they should do it and not tell it.
Grades K–12 Teacher, New Jersey
Teachers in the classroom provide the best in-service programs. They are actually using what they are teaching.
Grades 11–12 Teacher, New Jersey
Faculty who regularly teach teachers and who supervise practice teaching best provide in-service training.
College classes should not be required for in-service credit. Anyone who is qualified in the area of presentation can provide in-service training.
Grades 8–12 Teacher, Oklahoma
College classes should definitely be required for in-service training. Mathematics is changing and growing. New applications are everywhere.
Grades 9–12 Instructional Supervisor, Illinois
College classes certainly can address concepts in depth. No reason prevents college personnel from going to schools and offering in-service training there. That experience would be best.
Grades 5–6 Teacher, Maine
I believe that the quality of the training received would be better with college classes.
Community College Instructor, Georgia
The best provider of in-service training depends on the class. In-service training needs to be a collaborative effort among school districts, government, and local colleges and universities.
College Teacher, British Columbia
When college credit is given, teachers take a more active role in the in-service session. College courses also give us a link—beyond the short in-service training—to the teacher and the classroom.
Elementary Math Consultant, Alaska
Attaching credits to in-service sessions often means that participants must write papers, do projects, and so on. These activities are time-consuming. I want information, not more work.
Grades 10–12 Teacher, Michigan
College classes could be best, but only if the presenter is in tune with the reality of the school setting and its dynamics.
Denise Ann Korngold
College classes should not be required for in-service credit. Sometimes the college professor has never been in the public school setting. Too many of the ideas are ideal and not real. Other teachers provide the best in-service.
Grades 9–12 Teacher, Delaware
College classes, as well as other alternatives, should be required for in-service credit. The best providers of in-service training are people who know what they are doing, who understand students, teachers, schools, the subject matter, and how students learn. Bureaucrats and administrative hacks are not necessarily the best providers of in-service training. Teachers, teacher educators, and mathematicians should be part of the management group for in-service programs, but they may not be the best people to deliver them.
Consultant, South Australia
College classes should not be required for in-service credit because such training is best provided by those who have a multifaceted understanding of mathematics, learning, teaching, and so on, and who are gifted presenters and teachers—such people are rare!
The Canadian system is different. I think that in-service training is best provided by our local and provincial specialists' associations, such as BCAMT for mathematics.
Grades K–12 Teacher, British Columbia
Question 3: Explain whether mathematical content, received either through in-service sessions or college classes, should be required for recertification of all teachers at all levels.
Absolutely not! Under this premise, elementary teachers would have to know almost everything in the world.
Grade 5 Teacher, Rhode Island
I truly believe that all teachers should be learning new content and upgrading their own skills all the time. Pertinent courses should be required for recertification.
Elementary School Teacher and Consultant, New York
To stay excited and be rejuvenated, which benefit the students, all teachers should keep themselves up-to-date on new ideas, materials, and methods of presentation.
Grades 6–8 Teacher, Indiana
Mathematical content should be required for recertification of weaker or more traditional veteran teachers. Stronger veteran teachers should be expected to take part in advanced-level study groups in which they can stretch their professional knowledge.
Grades K–5 Teacher, New York
A teacher who is doing well should not have to take useless classes. Self-evaluation, videotaping, and so on make more sense.
Grades 11–12 Teacher, Ohio
In my 30 years of experience, teachers have been teaching mathematics—actually arithmetic—without really understanding it themselves. I agree that content training is necessary.
Mathematics Consultant, Ohio
Yes, mathematical content should be required for recertification, and teachers should be tested every five years.
Grades 9–12 Teacher, Ohio
The NCTM's Standards have changed the look, feel, and sound of mathematics classrooms nationwide. For this new reformed curriculum to work for all students, teachers must be required to participate in coursework.
Grades K–6 Teacher, Wisconsin
Continuous, professional updating should be done, but it should not be required for recertification.
Sister Lawrence Habetz
Grades 8–12 Teacher and Mathematics Department Chair, Louisiana
When you rest, you rust. However the mathematics must be appropriate for teachers of kindergarten through twelfth grade. Requiring me to study complex analysis is wasteful when I cannot use it on my job.
Grades 9–12 Teacher, New Jersey
In-service training is already required in Texas. Most teachers do not find that attending college classes for recertification is economically feasible.
Grades K–5 Math Specialist, Texas
Expecting someone to learn 15 years of mathematics in a year is unreasonable. In fact, any class that tries to accomplish that goal is probably using rote, teacher-directed teaching strategies. Teachers need to rethink their understandings about mathematics and critically analyze the ways that they were taught and how they see themselves and the colleagues that they teach. Changing one's frame of thinking takes time and then using that frame of thinking for teaching mathematics takes even longer. Teachers should conceptually understand the framework for effective teaching and learning and be confident in relearning the mathematics as they help their students understand it. This change in thinking takes at least five to eight years.
University Professor, Ontario
I believe in the professional side of teaching, and I believe that teachers have the responsibility and the right to decide the appropriate professional development for their professional growth. I am therefore hesitant to agree that recertification should have in-service education requirements.
Grades K–12 Teacher, Manitoba
In addition to improving the teaching of mathematics, improving teachers' mathematical content knowledge should be the primary goal of any professional development program. I think the rationale is as follows: given two good teachers, the one who has a better understanding of mathematics—how it is done, how different parts of mathematics fit together, and so on—will teach mathematics better.
Grades K–12 Teacher, Ohio
Question 4: Should in-service credit for attending curriculum association meetings be accepted?
Yes! I find that conferences are extremely useful. One- to three-hour-long sessions with knowledgeable speakers are wonderful. I came back with many ideas from the NCTM's Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., as well as other regional group conferences.
Grades 9–10 Teacher, New York
It depends on the quality of the meeting.
Project Manager, Virginia
More teachers might attend meetings if in-service credit is given for attending curriculum association meetings.
R. A. Morschauser
Grades 9–12 Teacher, New York
Yes. Why shouldn't they?
Grade 8 Teacher, Pennsylvania
Most definitely! Generating ideas and then imparting them is integral to the advancement of mathematics in the future.
Grade 3 Teacher, New York
Receiving in-service credit for attending curriculum association meetings is an excellent way to quickly learn new teaching ideas.
Grades 11–12 Teacher, Georgia
For a certain percentage of credits, I think that receiving in-service credit for attending curriculum association meetings is OK. However, teachers should be exposed to a variety of areas and activities.
Graduate Student, New York
In-service credit should not be given for attending curriculum meetings. Not all teachers can attend meetings that take valuable teaching time away from students.
Grades K–12 Teacher, Arizona
In-service credit, but not enough for recertification, should be given for attending curriculum association meetings.
Grades 9–12 Teacher, Alabama
In-service credit should be given for attending conventions of professional organizations only if attendance at specific programs is documented.
Grades 9–12 Teacher, Wisconsin
I think that granting in-service credit for attending curriculum association meetings should depend on what is done at the meetings. Such credit should not be given for going through publishers' meat markets or for attending social functions. It should be given if the workshops are content-oriented and if the attendee has to do some work. Monitoring whether the workshops are content-oriented and whether the attendee actually works would be difficult.
University Professor, North Carolina