Trusting Teachers and Supporting them to Support our Children

I have been teaching since 1996 when I had a brief stint as a math teacher at Wolmer's Boys school. I met wonderful teachers and students and looking back, there is a whole lot I would do differently if I went back to teaching high school math having learned many things since then about how to help weaker students.

This Spring, I read the book Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics Developmentally Appropriate Instruction for Pre-K-2 (Volume 1) by John A. Van de Walle. As many years as I have been teaching and as much as I've improved, this book has transformed my knowledge of what is possible for our weaker students and is causing me to question more than before what we are doing in education.  I would encourage any educator, not just math teachers to read the first 100+ pages of this book.

While at Wolmer's Boys High and when over the years I have received students who lack a very basic math skill needed to teach economics or statistics based courses, I have wondered why it is that some student don't understand foundation concepts and have been at a loss to teach them in a way that they retain these fundamental skills.  After reading the text above and the subsequent level (Grade 3-5), I am now more convinced than ever, as are many math education and education researchers, that many of our students are really quite brilliant and that as the Ministry of Education says "Every Child Can Learn".

This book was recommended to me by a Kindergarten teacher at a school that is above the 90th percentile in math in New York City. I subsequently discovered that both Dr Dionne Cross Francis and Dr Tamara Pearson have used this book when teaching teachers how to teach math. This book explained in great depth, the reason why math educators advocate for these new ways of teaching math. At first it didn't make sense to me even though I had heard the theories. I have now bought the KoolAid. After reading this book, I have changed the way I do math and do much more mental math.

The second eye-opening feature of this book was that it tells for each topic the misconceptions that students develop in these Pre-K-2 grades, what you see them write, and how to help students overcome these misconceptions. I teach Statistics at the College level and it was shocking to finally see an explanation for some of the weird things my students would do on their exams. Some of my students were writing in ways that displayed misconceptions developed by Grade 2 and these misconceptions had never been fixed. I was grateful to see this because I have finally gotten tools to help them overcome these gaps in a sustainable way.

Our very dedicated teachers want to support our children, as did I. Some of our teachers do not have the latest knowledge to remediate gaps and they need our support to develop themselves into better teachers. Professional Development is not a sexy thing that a company can put its name on so people can see it for years to come. It is, however, a vital part of any real effort to address what is happening in math education for the majority of Jamaican students. Let's support our teachers and give them what they need to get our very smart students to fulfill their potential.

Dr. Linda Bailey-McWeeney is the Executive Director of Reggae Math Foundation, an economist, and an educator. She is currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Economics at College of Staten Island, City University of New York and has been an Assistant Professor at Baruch College, City University of New York, Yeshiva University, and Wagner College. She has a Ph.D. in Economics from Michigan State University.