By Geoff Parks
April 11th, 2014
Note to elementary mathematics teachers-to-be in Oregon seeking specialized training in their field at Western Oregon University:
A new Elementary Mathematics Instructional Leader (EMIL) program at the Monmouth school will impart an added measure of specialization to the studies of current WOU teacher-education students, or others who want to pursue the designation on their own.
With the added skills gleaned from the program’s five mathematics courses, three education courses and a field-based practicum, teachers will be able to — along with three years of prior teaching experience — step into elementary or middle-school leadership roles in mathematics teaching.
In March, EMIL became the first math specialist program to be approved by the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC), said Laurie Burton, professor of mathematics at WOU. Burton is one of the three WOU professors who worked to set up the program, the others being Cheryl Beaver, an associate professor of mathematics, and Rachel Harrington, an associate professor of teacher education.
“This is a cross-college collaborative effort,” Burton said. “That’s not very usual. It’s less common to have a program that goes across the two colleges (Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Education).”
She said having reading and autism specialists in elementary schools has been standard practice over the years and the goal is to place mathematics teachers trained through the EMIL program into every school in Oregon.
Full implementation of the Common Core State Standards and Practices for Mathematics will take place in Oregon schools starting this fall, at which time, Harrington said, it will be “critical that Oregon schools be staffed by instructional leaders with advanced study in the teaching and learning of mathematics.”
Concurrently, she said, there are “quite a few” elementary math specialist programs at different schools and graduate programs across the nation providing educational opportunities for teachers.
“They are not all the same, and we are the first official one in Oregon,” Burton said.
When asked how the EMIL program will help make better elementary mathematics teachers, Beaver was straightforward.
“Having a (math) expert in the school building gives all the teachers a resource, and in this program they’re learning how to connect with their peers, not just with the students,” she said. “An EMIL-trained person should be able to provide support for the other teachers.”
“This program,” Burton added, “will create an expert in mathematics education at the elementary level that the other teachers in that building or school can use as a peer-supporting resource.”
“One thing that people might relate to,” Beaver said, “is that it’s sort of like having a reading specialist in your school.”
The bottom line, Burton said, is that the EMIL program will help train specialists who will be on-site in elementary schools across Oregon to help bring the math message to children in a more efficient and understandable way.
And with tongue in cheek, Burton stated her own guiding principle:
“Math,” she said, “what’s not to love?”