John Pedicone and Lee Herbst: Recruiting and retaining good math teachers is an investment in our future

2014-05-12T00:00:00Z John Pedicone and Lee Herbst: Recruiting and retaining good math teachers is an investment in our futureBy John Pedicone and Lee Herbst Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Mathematics is one of the foundational subjects for success in school and, arguably, in life. Mathematics is all around us in the things we do and the way we think.

Whether it is a carpenter who measures materials or the driver who determines the route and distance for a trip he or she will take, mathematics is woven in the very way we approach the most basic parts of modern life. These same types of things are part of each person’s daily life in one form or another.

In terms of college and workforce readiness, research at the University of Arizona shows that the closer to graduation a high school student takes a math class, the more likely she or he will be successful their freshman year in college.

This is particularly important because a student’s freshman year in college is often the gateway to college graduation. It is critical that we prepare students for math competency, and K-12 teachers are the gatekeepers of that success.

Just as successful athletes do not begin to hone their skills when they get to college, the love and understanding of math begins at an early age. Effective instruction by highly qualified teachers is critical to nurturing the foundations for both.

The UA is working hard to support effective K-12 mathematics instruction. The type of thinking required in math with examples from everyday life prepares students for problem solving in many situations and careers in life.

The university’s Center for Recruitment & Retention is committed to the improvement of teaching of mathematics. The center strives to identify individuals with a passion for math and the broad knowledge base needed to present the material in meaningful ways.

It does this by identifying undergraduates and giving them the opportunity to tutor students and assist in classrooms with a mentor teacher. This experience helps many students discover their genuine desire to become math teachers.

Once these students graduate and are placed in schools as teachers, they may elect to participate in a new teacher induction program that provides a mathematics teaching “coach” and monthly seminars.

All local K-12 teachers of mathematics are given the opportunity to attend after-school and Saturday workshops facilitated by master teachers. These workshops, as well as the new teacher induction Saturday sessions, provide a forum for teachers to experience Common Core-type lessons that emphasize multiple ways to approach problem solving, encourage students to share their thinking, and emphasize appropriate use of technology and hands-on learning.

Participating teachers get to experience the joys and frustrations associated with problem solving, helping them to better understand their students’ feelings. Good teachers remain students for life.

Every January the center sponsors the largest mathematics educator conference in the state, the Mathematics Educator Appreciation Day (MEAD) Conference.

A national speaker on mathematics education keynotes the luncheon, which follows 70 sessions offered by master teachers, consultants, Pima Community College and UA faculty. It must be noted that all levels of math teachers, from elementary to advanced secondary, can be involved in the same or similar workshops.

The commitment to recruiting and retaining teachers of mathematics has been meaningful. Tucson has been privileged to have the UA committed to improving and nourishing the teaching of mathematics, and this program is recognized as uniquely effective across the country.

So, when people ask “Why study math?” the UA answers that question by preparing teachers who answer that question for their students and by doing so helps them understand their world and reach their potentials.

Good teachers take the mystery out of math and instill a sense of wonder. If we can train excellent teachers to inspire our young people to not fear, but enjoy exploration in math, we will be preparing them for the rapidly changing future.

This is an investment in the quality of all of our futures.

John Pedicone is the former superintendent of former superintendent of Flowing Wells and Tucson Unified school districts. Lee Herbst, a Chicago math teacher for more than 40 years, now lives in Tucson. Both are members of the University of Arizona Mathematics advisory board.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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