The teaching profession is not perceived as prestigious and it is commonly believed that some teachers are forced to engage in this profession or choose it due to lack of other alternatives. Shulman (1986) presents a cynical quotation of Bernard Shaw: “Those who can – do and those who can’t – teach”. He slightly changed it into the slogan of “Tomorrow’s Teachers” reform in the United States: “Those who can – do and those who understand – teach”. Shulman emphasized three types of knowledge that teachers need: Professional knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and didactic-curricular knowledge (Shulman, 1987).
Teaching is not a profession which is suitable for anyone. In education, there is a continuing challenge which aims to directly link teachers’ properties and characteristics to an effective education and teaching. This link is very important especially when it concerns the education of young children in elementary school (Thomason & La Paro, 2013).
The question to be asked then is what about teachers’ personality? Studies which have examined the factors that affect students’ attainments, illustrate that teachers’ quality has a significant impact. Hattie (2003) conducted a meta-analytic study of factors that affect students’ academic attainments and found that the differences between teachers accounted for 30% of the variance in their students’ scores. A longitudinal study of Rockoff (2004) involved monitoring teachers for 10 years. The study found that the differences between those teachers accounted for 23% of the variance in their students’ attainments.
There is a an educational and somewhat philosophical discussion about teachers’ centrality and the components of the teaching profession, according for example to Shulman’s (1987) approach. However, there is no validated scientific platform for answering who is the good, ideal or appropriate teacher.
Wilson and Young (2005) offer three approaches to the determination of good teachers: scholar teachers, professional teachers and moral teachers. Scholar teachers are well educated, intellectual and apply a rich language. Professional teachers possess subject matter knowledge and are versed in a variety of teaching and learning methods. Moral teachers embrace caring values, believing that their students have emotional and intellectual skills. The third approach of caring teachers has become a leading approach in recent years due to the caring ideas of Noddings (2012).
Many changes were introduced to teacher education during the last two decades (Beach & Bagley, 2013). The significant change in teachers’ education is not the acquisition of knowledge. Rather, it implies turning them into active partners to the knowledge processing and adaptation to the students. The implementation of ict technology in the classroom and new methods of students’ assessment have changed the interaction between teachers, students and learning material. These changes have probably affected mathematics teaching and mathematics teacher education programs.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM, 2000) emphasizes six principles which address overarching themes:
- Equity. Excellence in mathematics education requires equity – high expectations and strong support for all students.
- Curriculum. A curriculum is more than a collection of activities: it must be coherent, focused on important mathematics, and well -articulated across the grades.
- Teaching. Effective mathematics teaching requires understanding what students know and need to learn and then challenging and supporting them in learning it well.
- Learning. Students must learn mathematics with understanding, actively building new knowledge from experience and prior knowledge.
- Assessment. Assessment should support the learning of important mathematics and provide useful information to both teachers and students.
- Technology. Technology is essential in teaching and learning mathematics; it impacts the mathematics that is taught and enhances students’ learning.
These themes entail three main dilemmas in the professional education of mathematics teachers:
- The gap between content knowledge of mathematics subject matter and pedagogical knowledge needed to teach heterogeneous student population generally (Jasmine & Singer-Gabella, 2011).
- The gap between the goals of mathematics instruction, whereby students should view mathematics knowledge as challenging and interesting, and the teachers’ feelings and beliefs, which do not transcend this purpose and mission level (Vinner, 2011).
- The gap between the real nature of mathematics and common perceptions about mathematics esoteric and alienated body of knowledge that only a privileged few are able to cope with its requirements (Dudley, 2010).
Elementary school mathematics teacher education is designed with an emphasis on the elements of knowledge, personality and teaching methods. Unfortunately, not always there is a balance between these elements, and as a result both teachers and students lose out.
This book aims to present chapters written by prominent scholars of mathematics education, referring to the following components of teachers’ image: education, knowledge, teaching and personality.
Part 1 of the book deals with teachers’ education and knowledge components. The first chapter, written by Shlomo Vinner, discusses the realistic expectations from elementary school mathematics teachers. Vinner recommends that teacher education programs refrain from dealing with complex and unnecessary mathematics issues which Vygotsky (1986) argues are beyond teachers’ zone of proximal development (zpd). Vinner suggests that in addition to the mathematics discipline, attention should be paid to other aspects of elementary school mathematics teaching. Chapter 2, written by Avikam Gazit, presents a study which explored the attitudes of elementary school mathematics pre-service female teachers towards the integration of humor in class. Humor plays an important role in reducing anxiety and improving cognitive capabilities. Most of the participants concurred there is room for humor in class and expressed their willingness to introduce it in their lessons. Chapter 3, written by Dorit Patkin and Ruthi Barkai, presents a study of van Hiele geometric thinking levels of mathematics in-service and pre-service elementary school teachers. The study illustrates that many of the participants are versed in the topic of triangles and quadrilaterals on the highest thinking level. Conversely, the percentage of those versed in the topic of circles on the third level is lower. All the participants manifested a lack of mastery on the two highest levels as far as solids were concerned.
Part 2 of the book deals with teachers’ components of teaching and personality. The first chapter in this part (Chapter 4), written by Eti Gilad and Shosh Millet, compares the motives and role perception of elementary school mathematics male-teachers who belong to different cultures: Israeli-born, Ethiopian immigrants, former ussa immigrants and Bedouins. The Israeli-born and former ussr immigrant teachers choose to engage in mathematics teaching on the basis of internal motives, such as sense of vocation, ambition to nurture the future generation or a wish to continue in a known state of learning. On the other hand, the internal motives of Ethiopian immigrants and Bedouins are integrated with external motives, such as wages, working conditions and social rewards. Chapter 5, by Dorit Patkin & Avikam Gazit, describes a study which examines the professional and personal self-image of elementary school mathematics teachers. According to the research findings, teachers maintain they embody most of the ideal properties while rejecting characteristics which are considered as unsuitable for teaching. The study found almost no significant differences between experienced and novice teachers. The last chapter (Chapter 6) is written by Nili Mendelson. It discusses a study which investigates the professional image of elementary school mathematics pre-service teachers in comparison with teachers of other disciplines’ image. The professional image was examined by means of a picture/metaphor series. The two figures with whom the participants identified to the greatest extent were the conductor and the animal keeper. At the same time, there was a sweeping rejection of the judge and animal trainer figures.
BeachD. & BagleyC. (2013). Changing professional discourses in teacher education policy back towards a training paradigm: A comparative study. European Journal of Teacher Education36(4) 379–392.
HattieJ. (2003October). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? Paper presented at the Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference on Building Teacher QualityMelbourne, Australia.
JasminY. & Singer-GabellaM. (2011). Learning to teach in the figured world of reform mathematics: Negotiating new models of identity. Journal of Teacher Education62(1) 8–22.
RockoffJ. E. (2004May). The impact of individual teachers on student achievement: Evidence from panel data. American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings94(2) 247–252.
ShulmanL. S. (1986). Paradigms and research program for the study of teaching. In M. C. Wittock (Ed.)Handbook of research on teaching (3rd ed. p. 153). New York, NY: Macmillan.
ThomasonA. C. & La ParoK. M. (2013). Teachers’ commitment to the field and teacher-child interactions in center-based child care for toddlers and three-year-olds. Early Childhood Education Journal41227–234.
VinnerS. (2011August). What should we expect from somebody who teaches mathematics in elementary school. In J. Novotna & H. Moraova(Eds.)The proceeding of the international Symposium on Elementary Math Teaching at Charles University (SEMT II). Prague.
WilsonS. M. & YoungsP. (2005). Research on accountability processes in teacher education. In M. Cochran-Smith & K. M. Zeichner(Eds.)Studying teacher education: The report of AREA panel on research and teacher education (pp. 591–643). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.