In a recent conversation with a group of math teachers, one colleague began a statement about the role of math teachers with this: **“I think we can all agree…”**

One problem… we did *not* all agree. “Actually…” I began my reply.

His statement was something like this: “…our primary role/responsibility is to make math easier for students by efficiently providing them with clear and concise explanations.”

There was a time in my career when I might have agreed with him. In fact, I probably spent the first ten years of my career striving to get better at exactly that. And, over time, my explanations did get better. I took pride in my ability to deliver content in bite-sized easy to digest pieces. This ability defined me as a teacher.

Simultaneously, I was growing more uncomfortable with this. I felt like I was teaching punctuation when, really, I wanted to be teaching literature. If I wanted my students to think mathematically, persevere in solving problems, appreciate mathematics, etc. my belief about my role had to change. In short, I had to “be less helpful.” I had to let go of what I had worked so hard to accomplish.

Back to that conversation at the school… here we were discussing the effectiveness of a particular problem-based lesson while holding opposing beliefs about what it means to teach.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about ways to bring forward these beliefs. I created an activity and tried it out over the last two days with two groups of math team mentors and administrators. The gist of it:

- Place each belief statement where you think it belongs on the truthiness continuum.
- If necessary, rewrite each statement so that it can be placed on the far right.

Teachers enjoyed the activity and I enjoyed eavesdropping on some thoughtful conversations. Each belief statement was inspired by actual comments that I have heard in the last two years. For what it’s worth, two of the statements (I won’t tell you which two) were taken directly from the WNCP Mathematics K-7 Integrated Resource Package and educators placed these statements, unedited, on the far right.

Below are some examples of how teachers rewrote statements so that they felt right– from the gut.

*There are three types of people: mathy people and non-mathy people.*

became

*All students are capable of learning mathematics. Mathematical thinkers are created, not born.*

(Okay, I served up a softball.)

*The most effective way to have students learn basic facts is by building brain muscle memory through timed drills and lots of practice.
*became

*The LEAST effective way to have students learn basic facts is by building brain muscle memory through timed drills and lots of practice*.Ha! BTW, other groups focused on the importance of having flexible strategies.

And check this out:

** The primary role/responsibility of the teacher is to make the learning of mathematics easier for students by efficiently providing clear and concise explanations.**became

*The primary role/responsibility of the teacher is to provide opportunities for students themselves to make sense of mathematics, to scaffold when necessary, and to help students make connections to the big ideas.*Of course, it’s not enough to believe. There’s also the challenge of putting these beliefs into practice. **But that, I think we can all agree, is a different conversation.**