NCTM News Bulletin

September 2003

Johnny Lott's letter

How can those who teach or aspire to teach middle school
attain the knowledge of mathematics content that they will
need to prepare students? Before we answer this question, let’s
take a look at some of the current conditions under which the
profession is operating.
In today’s world, middle school teachers may find it challenging
to teach mathematics if their education resulted in a K–8
teaching certificate. This is because K–8 teacher certification
programs rarely require more than 9 semester hours of mathematics
content and possibly a 3-credit methods class. Teachers
also may be ill equipped for the middle school classroom if they
majored in mathematics in a traditional secondary-level teacherpreparation
program and have had little professional development
since completing that major. Most traditional mathematics
majors may complete 33 to 36 semester credits of mathematics
at the collegiate level, which, although connected mathematically,
will likely have little connection to what is actually being
taught in the middle school classroom. (For example, it is one
thing to know that rational numbers are equivalence classes of a
relation on the set of integers cross itself, and a far different
thing to be able to talk with middle school students in a meaningful
way about proportionality involving rational numbers.)
To better equip middle school educators with the knowledge
they need to teach mathematics, we can look to The Mathematical
Education of Teachers, Part I (MET) (2001) for guidance.
MET is a report designed for mathematics faculty and other
parties involved in the education of mathematics teachers. The
document is consistent with NCTM’s Principles and Standards
for School Mathematics as well as other recent national reports
on school mathematics. (The full report is available online at
The authors of MET suggest that prospective middle school
teachers “should be required to take at least 21 semester-hours
of mathematics, that includes at least 12 semester-hours on fundamental
ideas of school mathematics appropriate for middle
grades teachers.” By this recommendation, the authors
intended two levels of courses—the first to develop a deep
understanding of the mathematics that teachers will teach, and
the second to broaden their understanding of mathematical
connections between one educational level and the next (meaning
both elementary and middle, and middle and high school
levels). The authors of this document also suggest one semester
of calculus (not the type typically taken by mathematics majors
and engineers), number theory, discrete mathematics, history of
mathematics, linear algebra and modern algebra, geometry, and
data analysis and probability. This is an extensive set of courses
rarely combined in a 21-credit package at most universities.
Similarly, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) defines a
highly qualified new middle school mathematics teacher as one
who has either a bachelor’s degree with a major in mathematics
or a master’s degree and knowledge of mathematics subject
matter. The description is not that different from the MET
The question then is how can we satisfy either of the sets of
mathematics requirements for prospective teachers? It appears
that it can be done only with the following actions:
• Discontinue K–8 teaching certificates that have minimal
requirements. If states want to continue this type of certification,
then they should increase the demands for content and
pedagogy for the certificate. Content must be specified, and
pedagogy or learning theory must accompany it. A person
receiving this type of certificate should expect five years of
preparation for the certificate (including a bachelor’s degree).
• Revise the requirements for a 7–12 teaching certificate. In
most states this certificate has allowed a mathematics major to
receive a secondary school certification. Unless coursework is
changed significantly, this major will still allow minimally
qualified mathematics teachers in middle school.
• Develop coursework that is appropriate for middle school
teachers. All universities and teacher preparation institutions
should acknowledge that most traditional mathematics majors
do not meet the intent of either MET or NCLB.
• Provide professional development for teachers who are now
in the classroom and do not meet the current expectations
required for middle school teachers.
• Hire mathematics specialists as middle school mathematics
This last recommendation will require some serious consideration
in rural and remote schools, but to do less is to continue
to allow students to be inadequately prepared in mathematics.
The Mathematical Education of Teachers, Part I. Providence, R.I.:
Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences, American Mathematical
Society, 2001.
President’s Message
What Do Teachers of Middle-
Grades Mathematics Need?
Johnny W. Lott

Reprinted with permission of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. All rights reserved.

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Last modified: 10/12/2003 6:41 pm