The Journey of Teaching Math – Part 1

by Pam Meader

Today the snow is falling outside and we are all hunkered down for a big storm. For me, it is a time to be reflective of where I have been on this journey called math education. A few weeks ago, Marilyn Burns, a well-known math educator in the K-12 world, started a blog and her first entry was about her experience as a math teacher. I couldn’t help but connect to her story, as I felt like she was describing my journey as well.

I started college in 1970 with the intent of becoming an elementary school teacher. However, when course registrations for freshmen began, I was closed out of most of my required courses — even courses for a minor in math. I was beside myself, but a nice professor came to my rescue and offered to take me into his Foundations in Functions class even though I had not had calculus and (at that time) was not a math major. He even made special tests for me that excluded the calculus component. While taking the course, I discovered my deepening love for mathematics. When second semester rolled around, I changed my major to secondary math and my math journey began.

In her blog, Marilyn Burns reflected on how college mathematics courses were tough for her, just as they were for me. Nothing connected for me in the courses, but fortunately I was a good memorizer and would spend hours memorizing procedures for various exams. I passed all my required courses but really carried very little understanding or knowledge with me when I graduated. To make matters worse, our Teaching Methods class was just teaching a lesson to our peers; there was no discussion of pedagogy that I can remember and very little connection to the reality of teaching.

I was hired as a high school teacher right out of college. I was barely older than some of my senior students and the reality of teaching hit me head on. Like Marilyn, I started teaching like I had been taught: in a very procedural way. But, I did walk around and check on students’ work and was always available for extra help. Then came the first quiz I gave to my freshman class and — they all failed. That was my wake up call. I knew there had to be a better way to reach my students. I had discovered one problem was that the students didn’t even know how to read a math text or use it to help prepare for tests, and so that summer I took a course called Teaching Reading in the Content Area. The course was helpful, but it never addressed how to teach reading in a math classroom. And so my journey in reforming my math teaching began…

SAMSUNGPam is currently co-director of the SABES Center for Mathematics and Adult Numeracy professional development initiative for Massachusetts. Pam is a former high school math teacher and has taught math in adult education for over 25 years. She helped co-develop Adults Reaching Algebra Readiness (AR)2 with Donna Curry. She is a national trainer for LINCS and ANI (Adult Numeracy Instruction). Pam enjoys sharing techniques for teaching math conceptually from Basic Math through Algebra and has co-authored the Hands On Math series for Walch Publishing in Portland, Maine.