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Math in the Middle: Are We Prepared?

barbaraby Barbara Cain
October 2000

Imagine reporting for your first teaching assignment and being faced with national standards, state standards, grade-level expectations, middle school standards, two or three sets of textbooks with countless supplemental materials, and the realization that your performance and the performance of your school are largely determined by a state test. This is often overwhelming for experienced teachers, as well as for those who are beginning their careers. Preservice and continuing staff-development experiences are vital so that educators can keep up with reforms and regulations.

An essential part of teacher preparation must be content. Middle school teachers should have a good understanding of all strands identified in the NCTM's Standards. As we strive to improve the performance of our students, we must be sure that algebra, geometry, probability, and statistics are required in the undergraduate programs. Generally, teachers who have a deeper understanding of the content are more capable of making connections, promoting discovery, evaluating alternative responses, and providing experiences that promote higher-level thinking skills than are their less-well-prepared peers.

Although it is a major priority, content knowledge alone does not ensure a successful teaching experience in the middle school. Preservice programs should demand classroom observations before student teaching. Prospective teachers need to experience various teaching styles and classroom interactions at every level as often as possible. In addition, they must have opportunities to examine national and state standards, state assessments, various types of technology, and appropriate use of manipulatives in the middle school curriculum. Undergraduates should inspect textbooks and supplemental materials, examine Web sites, and become familiar with the various professional organizations and resources that are available to them as teachers.

In Florida, the mentor program for beginning teachers has been beneficial. Ideally, a mentor is an excellent teacher in the same subject area as the beginning teacher. The mentors' goals are not to evaluate but to give help and guidance in content presentation and other concerns that arise during the school year.

Reforms in mathematics education may be more difficult for experienced teachers than for beginning ones. Experienced teachers have to change their comfortable methods of planning and implementation to meet students' needs. At the middle school level, staff development on teaming, interdisciplinary units, adolescent behavior, and strategies to develop reasoning and problem-solving skills are needed, as well as knowing what is taught in elementary school and what is expected in secondary school. About four years ago, my school system set up a Math Leadership Team consisting of a cadre of teachers from all levels who lead feeder-chain meetings twice a year for mathematics teachers of grades K–12. The meetings provide articulation that was previously lacking, a forum for discussing how students learn mathematics, and updates on recent reforms.

A recent television news segment stated that 10 000 new teachers will be needed in Florida next year, with our state's educational programs supplying only 6500 of them. Although not all the needed teachers are mathematics teachers, a shortage of qualified mathematics and science teachers is expected nationally. As more people are drawn into teaching from outside of education programs, staff development and peer support are essential for a quality mathematics program.


Barbara Cain,, is a teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, Merritt Island, Florida. In addition to teaching at the junior high and middle school levels for 31 years, she is a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Florida Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Brevard Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Phi Delta Kappa, and Delta Kappa Gamma, and she is the 1985 Presidential Awardee from Florida.


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