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Teacher Education via the Yellow Brick Road

houseby Peggy House
October 2000

In The Wizard of Oz, we meet Dorothy Gale and an assortment of colorful friends in search of four gifts: brains, heart, courage, and home. Their quest furnishes a parable for educators who are challenged to equip future or practicing mathematics teachers with those same qualities.

We give teachers the gift of brains when we insist that they develop a solid understanding of mathematics, the facility to apply mathematical knowledge in new situations, a clear vision of the goals of the mathematics curriculum, and good judgment about what and how to teach. The gift of brains demands of teachers a deep, rich, connected, living knowledge of mathematics and the ability to communicate it effectively to others. Without the gift of brains, a teacher can do little more than echo words without understanding and without the ability to interpret the language of mathematics.

The gift of heart endows teachers with awareness of the diverse needs of students and a commitment to develop the mathematical literacy of all learners. It enables teachers to set high expectations for students, to challenge students to expand their understanding and build their confidence and enjoyment of mathematics, to actively engage students in serious mathematical reasoning and dialogue, and to support students so that they experience success. The gift of heart, interacting with the gift of brains, helps teachers become reflective professionals who continuously analyze, evaluate, and adjust their teaching in productive ways for the benefit of their students.

Courage is the gift that fosters the mathematical power and personal conviction that teachers need if they are to become risk takers who make and act on informed choices. Teaching is, every day, a decision-making process. Effective teachers have a clear vision of what they value in education and well-articulated goals for themselves and their students; their instructional decisions flow from those values and goals, and they require the gift of courage, informed by brains and heart, to make and act on well-reasoned and purposeful choices.

When we give the gift of home, we welcome teachers into the professional community. We help them participate in the human activity that is mathematics, and we transmit a deep appreciation of the culture, history, and heritage of mathematics. Teachers who are proud of their mathematical heritage and competent in its language and tools create nurturing environments in which students learn the value of mathematical competence and in which the quality of students' thinking, creativity, and decision making are valued and promoted. Such teachers eagerly participate in professional activities and continuously strive to learn more; they become supportive colleagues who share their knowledge and collaborate with their peers to sustain and continue to transmit the rich legacy of mathematics.

These gifts of brains, heart, courage, and home are a connected set, and effective teaching resides in the intersection of the four components. We must be committed to all four, but we cannot bestow these gifts on others if we do not ourselves possess them. We who are entrusted with the professional development of teachers must examine and transform our own teaching to assure that the gifts we seek to give are manifested in our own practice. We must teach through example, as well as through lecture notes. We must take our own journey down the Yellow Brick Road.

In Oz, the Yellow Brick Road was full of surprises and challenges, but none of the travelers doubted the importance or attainability of the ultimate goal. The transformation and enhancement of teacher education is likewise a goal that we must pursue with the same determination that propelled the travelers in Oz.


Peggy House,, is director of the Glenn T. Seaborg Center for Teaching and Learning Science and Mathematics at Northern Michigan University and a former member of the NCTM Board of Directors. She has been involved in mathematics teacher education throughout her professional life and was one of the original Editorial Panel members of Mathematics Education Dialogues.

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