Teaching math with no teaching/subject background

That’s what I’m being made to do. We have several students who are severely underperforming in math. The solution? Specialists like me (the school librarian) are supposed to teach math to these kids. We have been given no training, just a curriculum that was purchased. I have a group of eight second graders, most of whom can’t add two one digit numbers without using their fingers. Sure, I can do second grade math. However, I have no idea how to go about teaching it. I think I’m good at what I was hired to do, but I’m completely at a loss here. If I were a parent of one of these kids I’d be furious. I just hope that there are jobs available out there by the end of the school year. I’m the primary wage earner in our family, with a mortgage and two kids in college soon, so I can’t afford to just walk away. Right now I’m hoping that anti anxiety meds will get me through the worst part of it; I’m not willing to make that a long term solution, though.

Teachers who don’t “know how to teach” are the best teachers.

Irrelevant tidbit: I tutored a lot of Algebra and I always told them to stop wondering why something is the way it is-- and just find out how to do it. I think that in the subject of math, a lot of people try to rationalize what they’re doing-- when they are not ready yet.

Don’t be too sure of that. P-man, how the heck did this come about? Is there someone you can raise the concern with? Only for the early school basics would I be okay with that.

It’s been raised. Nobody is happy about it, but I am math phobic and even less happy. My point is that if the best they can do to help these kids is stick them with those who are least qualified to help them the school is in trouble. It’s not just at our school, btw. It was hard to take a group of kids who have always loved coming to the library to do something they obviously didn’t like was very difficult. Several were rolling around on the floor and asking to go to the can like second graders do when they’re being asked to do something they really don’t want to do. I see where they’re coming from, because I hated math as well.

I’m sorry you are having to deal with this, and agree with you that what these kids really need is someone who likes math and knows how to teach it. However, since it sounds like you are stuck doing this, maybe you could see this as an opportunity to move past your math phobia? (I know this is hard, because I was convinced I wasn’t a “math person” up until my senior year of college, when a math major friend helped me with calculus, and I realized I wasn’t bad at math, I had just been taught poorly up until then.) If it helps, there really is no such thing as being inherently bad at math. What curriculum did they give you? Would you be open to suggestions about possible teaching methods or lessons?

You’ve got this, really. It’s not uncommon; our media specialist did it, too.

Figure out your schedule, what you’ll go over and when, and over plan. Are you reinforcing what the teacher taught that day? Or are you going through the purchased curriculum on your own?

Ask the classroom teacher if she has any manipulatives, like little plastic figurines to use for counting, or dice to use where they can roll and count the pips, or whatever. Read whatever curriculum stuff they bought. Often teaching manuals actually have almost step-by-step lessons for everything, and all you have to do is follow.

It’s a pain that you have to do this, but you won’t hurt the kids. You may never enjoy it, but I think our media specialists thought of all the stuff they could be asked to do and figured this would have the fewest problems. My district has little money, and my state has none, so media specialists are one of the first cuts the district proposes during contract negotiations, and the specialists want to be able to show how much they’re doing.

Contrariwise, see the nearby thread about Common Core, where many posters are arguing that the problem is not with Common Core per se but rather with the atrocious curriculum materials, worksheets, and textbooks (or lack thereof); the seemingly poor teacher training; and the overly intrusive and incompetent management by the higher-ups in “the system”. One common theme in all the “New Math” and similar threads is that even the teachers don’t seem to know what they are doing.

So, Mr. P-man, you might not be in such a bad position as you think, compared to everyone else.

Teach them Chisanbop. Seriously.


Bingo. I was sick a lot the year before we started algebra and my grades suffered. Therefore, they put me in lower algebra instead of regular algebra. We had a great teacher and got just as far in the book as the regular algebra class, but the next year, they insisted we take regular instead of higher algebra. So I retook algebra by a teacher who preferred basketball coaching to teaching and this time, I was disengaged and went a different route to finish my math requirements. But before started college, they said I needed a higher algebra class to meet the math requirements. It felt like the same damn class a third time. So I just dropped it and got a Journalism degree.

A knowledgeable and engaging instructor makes all the difference in the world to students. As an instructional designer, I see this issue in the classroom with adult learners. Children are much more easily influenced by teachers than adults. They need engaged instructors.

I love Chisanbop, but I see two problems with this proposal:

  1. IME it’s something that math-savvy third graders adore, and kids that don’t quite get math already find completely confusing.
  2. Second grade is really the time you want kids to internalize place value, at least through the hundreds place. Chisanbop is awesome, but the use of the thumbs for 5 and 50 presents a numerical model that’s not base 10; if a kid is having trouble internalizing base 10, I’d have a real worry that this would confuse them even further.

P-man, I both sympathize with your plight and sympathize with your administrator’s plight. Kids who are struggling in math in grade 2 are likely to go to grade 3 without that internalization of place value, and that’s gonna screw them up for years, maybe even leading to their growing into adults who hate math. They need that individual attention to remediate them.

Do you have particular topics you need to get them to understand? If not, DEMAND specific topics: you can’t do this without knowing the end game. (For example, my remediation goal for early third graders from a couple weeks ago was: “Within three weeks, all students will be able to add and subtract two digit numbers using a place-value-based strategy, accurately and efficiently.” Or something like that, I’m too lazy to dig up the specific wording).

If you have particular topics and want some tips, post 'em here. I taught second grade for four years, and may have some advice.

I used to teach what was called Basic Skills Math, and it sounds like what you’re talking about. The students’ teachers gave me a list of exactly what I was supposed to help them with. Talk to the teachers.

Aren’t there some good computer programs you can use for this?

Do these kids have IEPs? If so, are you supposed to be covering something on that?

Khan Academy, if you use it well, is pretty rockin. At this age, though, manipulatives are fantastic.

A few of you asked about computer programs to use; I’m getting mixed signals. The counselor who is coordinating the whole thing said I’d be able to use IXL, but the instructional coach seemed taken aback when I mentioned it. If I can have that as a tool it’ll possibly be doable. 50 or so more sessions before the end of the year seems rather daunting. Because they retest fairly often (iReady, if anyone is wondering) the kids I get could change over the course of the year. The Eureka Math modules we’re supposed to use make no sense to me (even beyond the fact that they assume manipulatives I don’t have are available. One more wrinkle: we’re a public Montessori school. Also, I find the data on some of the kids (although none that I’m working with) to be suspect. The reason I say this is that the scores varied wildly with some students (mostly ones who were scoring high in reading) from month to month. Since it’s an online test, there’s no real way to keep them from checking out if that’s what they choose to do. Personally, while I agree some testing is needed, I believe the testing industry is a racket that has making money as it’s main purpose. Test scores are low? Buy our testing materials and raise them.

Oh, Jesus. I didn’t realize it was online testing. Yeah, that’s a damn farce. If you’re locked into that, I’m not sure what to tell you (although I’m mighty skeptical that it’s in keeping with the Montessori model).

My experience with teaching math, for what it’s worth, is that kids need concrete ways to understand math at this age. Manipulatives are key. MOving from manipulatives to number should be done gradually and with explicit instruction, showing kids specific ways to solve problems, especially kids that aren’t born mathematicians. At the same time, creative solutions that are mathematically sound should be encouraged.

Are there specific objectives?

Not defending the practice… far from it… but at least they gave you a curriculum, and presumably the related materials.

First place I worked didn’t even give me that.

Curriculum, check.

Related materials, nope.