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Agenda for Action: Professionalism

Recommendation 7
Mathematics Teachers Must Demand of Themselves and Their Colleagues a High Level of Professionalism

Educators can gain the support of society and the rewards of a truly effective performance by developing, defining, and enforcing professional standards in terms of highly competent professional performance rather than by any other norm. This must be done to provide the nation, its young people, and its future with the mathematics programs worthy of them and of that future.

Within mathematics teaching:

  • there are already many well-prepared and effective teachers who provide outstanding professional leadership;
  • there are also many teachers who are motivated and desire to improve but who lack adequate preparation and must be given the necessary support to become fully qualified and to improve;
  • there are, however, some teachers whose attitudes and functioning are at less than a professional level. In the best interests of students and society, the number of such teachers must be reduced immediately.

Even the best prepared, competent, and dedicated teachers must continue their development to keep abreast of changing needs, tools, and conditions, School administrations have the responsibility to make this possible by providing continuing in-service education and by encouraging teachers to take full advantage of opportunities for maintaining their competence that are offered by professional organizations and universities.

At the beginning of this decade, the schools are faced with a widespread shortage of qualified mathematics teachers. The demand for mathematical competence in many sectors of society is great and growing, and schools find it impossible to compete for individuals who have this desired background. Thus, in many mathematics classrooms, the teacher does not have the subject-matter qualifications for teaching mathematics. School administrations have two obligations: (1) to be forthright and open with the parents about the situation, and (2) to provide special aid and support needed by these teachers until they can make up deficiencies. The professional organizations also have a special responsibility to cooperate in assisting such teachers who are dedicated to improvement. However, the public and its representatives must give high priority to finding ways to solve the worsening problem.

Regardless of preparation, the standard of professionalism should be consistently high, and it is the obligation of any group that wishes to be called a profession to insist that all members maintain this standard.

Teachers must be sensitive to the needs of their students and dedicate themselves to the improvement of student learning as their primary professional objective. The right of students and parents to expect this dedication has correlative responsibilities: a mutual respect and support by the parent of the educational program and a teacher’s professional competence, and the acceptance by the student of ultimate personal and active commitment to his or her own learning.

Any teacher who lacks dedication to these professional ideals and to continued self-improvement should not be retained in teaching. Teachers must accept performance and not protectionism as a synonym for professionalism. During the decade of the 1980s, the continuing appearance of new concepts and theories in mathematics, in the applications of mathematics, and in the teaching-learning process will affect both curriculum and instruction in school mathematics. In order to remain professional, teachers must continue to study in all three areas. This will require of teachers a new level of motivation and dedication.

Recommended Actions 

7.1  Every mathematics teacher should accept responsibility for maintaining teaching competence. 

  • Full advantage should be taken of all existing opportunities for continuing education.
  • Teachers should insist that school districts and colleges make provision for in-service education and staff development opportunities.
  • Teachers should belong to professional organizations that are dedicated to the improvement of teaching and learning.
  • Teachers should participate actively in the efforts of professional organizations to improve teaching and learning.
  • Teachers should share ideas and participate with their peers in cooperative efforts at self-improvement, including observation and constructive criticism of one another.
  • Teachers as a profession should insist that all members maintain a consistently high standard of professional behavior. The profession is not obligated to protect those individuals who refuse to live up to reasonable professional standards.
  • Bargaining units of organizations representing teachers should include in their requests release time for professional development and attendance at professional conferences that provide in-service education.

7.2  School awards and school administrations should take all possible means to assure that mathematics programs are staffed by qualified, competent teachers who remain current in their field. 

  • Necessary incentives must be found to attract competent and dedicated teachers to the profession.
  • The status, compensation, and teaching conditions necessary for the retention of qualified teachers must be dramatically improved.
  • School districts must budget adequately and provide incentives for teachers to participate in in-service education pertinent to their immediate needs as they prepare to meet the challenges of the future.
  • School district staffs, including teachers, must plan in-service education that is articulated with local colleges and universities as well as with professional organizations such as the NCTM and its state and local affiliates.
  • School administrators should encourage teachers to take an active professional role and should permit them to participate, without penalty, in conferences and vital professional work.
  • School systems should maintain well-qualified mathematics specialists or supervisors at all levels to help teachers achieve the professional level specified in these recommendations and to coordinate mathematics education efforts within the system.
  • Well-qualified mathematics specialists should be on the staffs of all governmental agencies that deal with mathematics education—specifically, in all state and provincial departments of education, in the National Education Department, the National Institute of Education, and the National Science Foundation.

7.3   Teacher education institutions and agencies should develop new programs of preparation to incorporate the problem-solving emphases recommended. 

  • Programs in teacher education must be designed to prepare teachers for new levels of performance and professionalism.
  • The effective teaching of problem solving requires thorough preparation both in mathematical content and in teaching methods that develop problem-solving ability.
  • Colleges and universities must redesign courses and programs to incorporate revisions recommended for the preparation of mathematics teachers.

7.4  Certification standards for mathematics teaching should be revised and upgraded to incorporate the needs reflected in the recommendations. 

  • Professional organizations should participate in defining standards for certification of teachers.
  • State and provincial departments of education should involve professional organizations in setting professional standards and defining qualifications.
  • Professional organizations—such as the Mathematical Association of America, Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences, National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics—in cooperation with the NCTM should continually review and update their guidelines for the preparation of teachers of mathematics.

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