Wednesday, January 27, 2010

You Asked For It, Internet

Yesterday, one of my loyal readers and commenters, Institutrice Teacher sent me a link to the following article that suggests young girls may develop a fear of math as a result of their former female teachers' personal lack of confidence in math.

My initial thoughts upon skimming said article:
1) Sweet, something to blog about.
2) I heart my readers. (Read: send me things!)
3) Are you freaking kidding me with this crap?

As a doctoral candidate, I have been trained (Yeah, I used the word "trained" in this situation. It totally fits. Arf! Arf!) (That was my best trained seal impression.) to dissect articles, look for their validity and assess their contribution to my knowledge base. And while I tried to come at this from a trained doctoral perspective, I'm just too....well, too pissed. (Yeah, I used the word "pissed" in this situation. It totally fits.) In an effort to reign my own rage in, I decided to wait to write about this. You know, until the steam stopped pouring from my ears? But then, OH THEN, this thing blew up all over the internet! Every email that came to my inbox was all, "Dude, it's totally your fault if any of your former female students blows the math test. You should have listened better in 6th grade...loser." And I was all, "Oh, internet, it is on." Because you know what? A lot of people outside of the world of education are going to read this nonsense, feel all empowered and then ruin the day of their child's poor unsuspecting teacher. Or make up their minds that the failures of the American public education system really ARE all the fault of the teacher. 'Cuz if it's on the internet, it must be true, right?

First of all, they are trying to get all Quantitative on us by throwing around numbers. This entire study, THIS ENTIRE STUDY WHICH IS ALL OVER THE INTERNET AND WILL PROBABLY BE ON TV TONIGHT BECAUSE EVERYONE LOVES A GOOD TEACHER BASHING, is based on a study of 17 teachers. SEVENTEEN!! Do you have any idea how many freaking first and second grade teachers there are in this great country of ours??? Do you? (Um, 'cuz I don't. But I know the number is WAY BIGGER than 17 and I totally doubt if a sample size of 17 is even statistically significant.)

At least the piece published in the Chicago Tribune saves itself (by not totally blaming the teachers) (because then I would need to go totally postal) at the end by making the recommendation that teacher preparation programs need to beef up their math requirements, which I can't totally disagree with. I am of the opinion that is a tad too easy to become a teacher these days considering how difficult the job can be.

The LA times article however, conveniently forgets to mention that this entire thing is based off seventeen teachers. Instead, they prefer to make sweeping statements about how the female teachers studied believe that boys are just "hardwired" for math in a way that girls aren't. Or that female teachers have a pervasive attitude of anxiety towards math.

Ladies, did you hear that? We have math anxiety. (Do they make a pill for that?) Evidently, there were these seven women who have anxiety about math, which means we all must feel the exact same way. You know, because it's totally cool to make a HUGE GENERALIZATION like "Women are all anxious about math."


At the end of the article, a professor of Education says that these results were "not surprising" (Sweet. Maybe the math anxiety was passed down to US, ever think about that?!) but then saves herself by questioning if it is fair to single out teachers.

To which I respond, NO IT IS NOT FAIR.

I mean, since they were only dealing with 17 teachers, did they bother to find out what math program or math curriculum these teachers were using? Did they ask whether or not the teachers had received enough professional development on the implementation of said program or curriculum? Did anyone over at the L.A. Times think to question the ways in which these teachers were prepared? Or perhaps investigate how much professional development they had received about new instructional techniques for teaching problem solving since so many of us went to school a billion years ago when it was totally cool to borrow and carry numbers without understanding what the hell that meant? DID ANYONE ANYWHERE EVER STOP TO THINK THAT MAYBE JUST MAYBE NOT EVERYTHING THAT IS WRONG WITH EDUCATION IS THE FAULT OF THE TEACHER? Or that constantly blaming teachers is like beating a dead animal...nothing is going to change if it's already dead, people! The horse is not going to jump up and run away. And the teacher is not going to suddenly stand up and say, "You're right, thanks for beating me senseless with your incessant criticism yet odd lack of viable suggestions! Let me revolutionize my teaching on my own time with little to no support."

If only they (meaning everyone on the outside) knew how often we questioned ourselves and our own methods. If only they could see how frequently we look for other sources, other people, other ideas to help us improve upon our craft. If only they could see how much time we spend doing the best that we can with what we have. (Which I know isn't always good enough, or really even much of an excuse, but it's all we can do while people choose to continually tear us down rather than roll up their sleeves and actually join forces to get something positive done.)

I guess maybe it's just cheaper to hit us while we're down.

And before you're all, "Geez, Mrs. Mimi can't take criticism AT ALL," know that I always welcomed the constructive criticism of my teaching and any professional development that would help me to become a better teacher. Call me crazy, but this just feels a little bit more like the age old tradition of buck passing.

*Throws mike to the floor and walks away*


Sarah said...

That article was a load of crap. And the college professor saying education students were his worst students makes me sick. I know MANY teachers who are very smart - there's always someone making a whole group look bad. I had several semesters with a 4.0 gpa. Made the dean's list almost every semester. I have a math and reading specialization. I did better in my math classes than my husband. I tutored him! The head of the math department at my college is female. There are so many factors that could affect these students' scores that were not even considered. Of course, it was the teacher.

Rachel said...

Oh wow. I normally stay away from education articles because they do nothing but get my ire up (and my poor husband is tired of tip-toing around the house, trying to avoid setting me into a long-winded rant about the problems with political pedagogy). But with an article like that, I can't even get mad because it's so complete crap. I've taken a little statistics in high school & college, and honestly my reaction upon hearing a sample size of 17 is to laugh(but scary that no one questions that).

While we lead by example, I am SO. TIRED. of blaming the teachers for everything. What about the parents? How come no one is pointing at the parents and saying "Encourage your girls in algebra? Make them practice with a monthly budget or the week's grocery list," etc. Maybe I'm just contributing to the blame game, but ultimately, I always ask: what about the parents?

Ginger Snaps said...

I agree Rachel. Why not parents? Why not STUDENTS even!? Since when are students not supposed to be accountable for their own learning!? I practically have to shove the flash cards down their little throats fot them to practice and learn their dang facts! I've sent home letters, conferenced with parents, and encouraged students with incentives. Did it change anything? Nope. Not a thing. And whose fault is it? Oh, right. It's mine!

Rebecca said...

Ones of female teachers agree: math is hard. Well then! Do these researchers hate math too? Do they know nothing of statistics and sample sizes? Sigh.

institutrice said...

Ooo, yay! I knew you'd have something good to say about that article! As a female elementary teacher who loves loves LOVES math (I'm tired of people telling me that's a rarity), just the title of this article got my blood boiling. (That and my tendency to skim made me miss the part about only 17 teachers in the study. WTF is up with that?? We need to post comments to the original article!) What's next - they're going to blame us for *all* poor math scores because hey, aren't 99% of elementary teachers female? Give me a break.

And you aren't kidding that it spread like wildfire. The next day it was the subject line and lead article of my daily ASCD SmartBrief.
I wholeheartedly agree with everything everyone said about parents. When will they be held accountable for their children's performance? That is the missing piece of NCLB.

lynn said...

I looked at the study in a different way. I teach many different subjects per day, and math is my favorite. I really HATE teaching writing, but I have to do it. Am I as excited with my students when I introduce a new math concept as I am when I introduce a new writing concept? Absolutely not. I'm human, and my emotions, likes, and dislikes show through. I work hard at masking it, but it's not really that hard to tell. I assume the teachers in the study are similar to me in this regard and several really don't enjoy teaching math. I do agree that 17 teachers does not an accurate sample make.

Alicia said...

This article is BS as you have said in such great form! I still get steamed over a comment my husband related to me from a teacher preparation course he had with a very chauvinistic male professor. This prof had the audacity to say the problem with students/scores today are those WOMEN teachers taking personal days off AND those taking time off to have babies. I was LIVID.

On a funnier note, for years I have always mentioned to my best friend that I could take a "mental health day" (read: personal day) once in a while to hang out with her. She just told me that she always believed that was what they were called. Oops! :)

Stu said...

Well...I'm an elementary teacher and I have always had trouble with math....

Oh...wait...I'm a male...that can't be right since I must be hardwired for math.

Or maybe I should go out and find 16 more male teachers and see how our students are doing in [choose a subject to bash teachers about].

If I do a study with 17 male elementary teachers can I get a grant?

Miss said...

This is becoming more and more common tho..everything is the teacher's fault, not the parents who are in prison, getting high or generally don't care. I agree with your point about the teacher bashing, it's always blame the teachers for everything-apparently teachers are even responsible to teaching students how to go to the toilet and tie up their shoelace. But not once does the government (I live in Australia) step in and say, you know what, we should provide more training for these teachers. We aren't against learning new things, I would love to. My principal just doesn't want to send me on PD's because it costs money. :( No wonder we are all leaving in droves.

cascadingwaters said...

I posted this on my FB page with the comment, "watch what you say, moms" because THAT's who I hear, "Oh, I was never good at math" most often from. I was in my third grader's classroom last month for a parent participation day, and you should have heard the moms when the teacher passed out a multiplication quiz.
If this is the attitude they hear while they're doing homework, it ISN'T helping!
Kudos on the stats, Mimi!

Karen said...

Amen to everything said here. I'm not a classroom teacher...I am a private tutor with an education degree. I can give parents every tool under the sun to help their child improve in math, and do you think they use them? 75% of the time that's a big freaking NO! The parents who insist that their child do what I tell them...well, big surprise...they improve. With these folks it's EVERYONE'S fault but theirs and their child! How come they don't pick 17 sets of parents whose children are failing math and see what their attitudes toward math and school are?

sheldinski said...

I do not care for math and I am a female. I do, however, cater to the mathematical needs of my students (which aren't many, since I teach high school Spanish). It sets me off a little that this study suggests that simply because I'm a female, I'll just never really get math. Some things just don't float my boat. On the other hand, I like the satisfaction of mowing the lawn and fixing my own stuff. Does that make me gender confused???

jonathan said...

There's over 3 million elementary and middle school teachers in this country (about 400,000 2nd grade teachers).

It'a about 4:1 female, though almost certainly the percentage drops as we go up in grades. But since kindergarten is less than 98% female, I'd bet we're at 90 - 95% in second grade.

I wrote about this a few months ago

<a href = '>Jonathan/jd2718</a>

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