Students’ comments reveal Qld teachers fail at maths
HUNDREDS of Brisbane students have revealed why they don't study challenging mathematics subjects with out-of-field teachers having a staggering impact on their course choice, amid a crippling shortage of specialty educators.
Australian Catholic University's mathematics education lecturer Dr Michael Easey surveyed 423 secondary students across three Brisbane schools in year 10, at the cusp of choosing year 11 and 12 subjects which will influence their results, tertiary admission and future employment.
The study revealed that of the students surveyed a mean of nearly three quarters of students across years 8 to 10 were taught by out-of-field teachers.
This declined over the three years, with 84.4 per cent were being taught mathematics by out-of-field teachers in year 8, slightly decreasing to 82.7 per cent in year 9 to 51.1 per cent in year 10.
Having an out-of-field maths teacher made a staggering difference to which level of mathematics students chose to study.
Of the students surveyed, 274 identified which subject level they would choose with 22 per cent opting for mathematics A, 30 per cent choosing Mathematics B and only 12.5 per cent choosing Mathematics C.
Students who had no, or only one out-of-field mathematics teacher across year 8 to 10 were more than 20 times more likely to choose Mathematics C over Mathematics A in senior years.
Students who had two out-of-field mathematics teachers were only three times more likely to choose mathematics C over mathematics A.
"From this study it is very evident that if teachers are qualified to teach mathematics, students were more likely to select more mathematically demanding upper-secondary mathematics courses, Mathematics B but especially Mathematics C," Dr Easey said.
"In this study some students choosing to study Mathematics B or Mathematics C provided written comments that suggested a feature of their experience of learning mathematics were teachers who were "expert", "enthusiastic", and "challenging"."
Latest research from the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) shows one in three secondary mathematics classes are taught by an out-of-field teacher around the country.
AMSI schools program manager Janine Sprakel said it was of great concern that students choosing to study mathematics in senior secondary school and university was dropping.
"Our future is STEM, that is well established," she said.
"Maths is an area that will have a huge impact on our future, and data analysis using mathematics as well as programming skills is already one of the highest paid jobs and operates across all industries.
"It makes sense that the teachers who are trained in mathematics suggest to their students that they would be capable of undertaking mathematics at a higher level in Year 12 and in University."
She said while there were numerous great teachers without a background in mathematics teaching, specialist teachers bring a different level of understanding and enthusiasm to the subject.
"I like to make the analogy with sport: a swimming teacher needs to be able to swim, a cricket coach needs to know something about cricket … we would like our maths teachers to know and love maths," she said.
Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said there are acute shortages in specialist teachers, particularly in mathematics, sciences and information technology design which caused workload issues.
"If we had an answer, we would have solved the problem but in the last two decades and prior this has been an ongoing problem," he said.
"It's the same issue in every jurisdiction, there are a shortage of teachers in these disciplines and therefore there are teachers teaching outside of their specialty area.
"You cannot assume because they're teaching out of their area that they're not teaching well, but having a specialist math teacher in every math classroom would be the ideal."
WHAT STUDENTS SAID
Maths A student - "I enjoy learning and understanding new things."
Maths A student - "It's kinda fun when you understand it and get it right."
Maths B student - "Maths is my favourite subject. I've found it enjoyable and
interesting especially when we learn new work."
Maths B student (Survey respondent 135) - "I chose this rating because I've always liked maths, it's never boring."
Maths C student (Survey respondent 70) - "I chose this rating  because I definitely have a passion for maths and enjoy the challenge."
Maths B student - "I have always loved mathematics … the numbers just speak to me. Give me an equation problem and I get lost in the question! It's awesome! The sense of accomplishment when you solve it is amazing. I always look forward to maths."
Maths A Student - "Maths is my least favourite subject. I find it boring and difficult."
Math A Student - "I find maths difficult to understand. Also, because I don't find maths a fun or interesting subject."
Maths B Student - "Maths can be both difficult and boring depending on the work and your teacher."
Maths B Student - "I chose this because it can get very hard and sometime [sic] learning all the rules is repetitious and boring."
Of these, 35 written comments were positive (57.4%) and 26 (42.6%) written comments were negative.
Mathematics B student - "The teacher has been the difference for me being successful."
Mathematics C student - "Whether I've done well has depended on the teacher."
Mathematics A student - "I don't enjoy maths. The teachers weren't the best and I've got bad marks as a result."
Mathematics B student - "I haven't done well because of the teacher. Mainly because they didn't really know the work or how to teach it."
Mathematics A student - "Some teachers have used activities sometimes instead of the textbook all the time which has helped me learn as it's been more fun."
Mathematics A student - "It's good when the teacher explains it in different ways until you get it."
Mathematics B student - "I chose this rating because I have had a very positive learning experiences in Grades 8, 9, and 10 where my teacher got us involved in solving challenging problems."
Mathematics B student - "I chose this rating because it is mainly due to the teacher I have had for 3 years that makes my maths lessons positive and enjoyable as he explains things really well and help me to understand. I've also enjoyed the activities we've done together that haven't been from the text and the extra challenge that's provided."
Mathematics C student - "My experiences of mathematics lessons has been positive as my teachers have been able to explain complex concepts and problems clearly."
Mathematics C student - "I agree with this statement as the teachers I've had have always strived to create a positive learning environment for the class and encouraged us to work and solve things together."
Mathematics A student - "Our maths teachers are the influence of whether our maths lesson has been positive or not. In the past, my maths teachers did not explain things to the class or me very well and I couldn't understand most of the time."
Mathematics A student - "Because teachers that I have had have not had good ways of explaining the work."
Mathematics B student - "I have not always enjoyed maths because of how the teacher was not very helpful in explaining certain topics, she would only repeat the same things over and over again, the same things I didn't understand!"
Mathematics B student - "In Year 8 my teacher was incompetent, couldn't explain stuff and taught by the textbook only. In Years 9 and 10 my other teacher had little control over the class."
Of these, 156 (53.1%) written comments were positive and 138 (46.9%) written comments were negative.
Mathematics A student - "Most of my teachers have been good at what they are doing and offer to help us at lunchtime."
Mathematics A student - "My teachers have been OK at helping us learn. They try and make sure we understand before doing new work."
Mathematics B student - "I have had the same mathematics teacher all throughout high school and he is expert. He is very enthusiastic and easy to get along with."
Mathematics B student - "I've been extremely lucky to have excellent teachers in 8, 9, and 10 who have known the work and how to teach it. I know this because some of my friends complain that their teachers have not been as good."
Mathematics C student - "My secondary mathematics experience has been positive as teacher has taught exceptionally well with enthusiasm and passion, encouraging persistence and love of learning. I have had the same mathematics teacher all throughout high school and he is expert. He is very enthusiastic and easy to get along with."
Mathematics C student - "I've always loved maths - particularly problem-solving questions that challenge me to think beyond the rules and equations. My teacher goes further than the textbook, encouraging us to figure out the rules and why they are that way, challenging us to use maths with more than basic answers."
Mathematics A student - "It hasn't been positive. I had too many different teachers who simply fail at teaching maths."
Mathematics A student - "Maths is pushed more than any other subject at my school, and it confuses me unless my teacher works individually with me and only in Year 9 has my teacher taught in a way I understand and makes me want to learn."
Mathematics B student - "I have achieved good results, but my teachers were no help. They didn't know their stuff and I had to learn everything myself or from kids or teachers in other classes."
Mathematics B student - "Only one of my teachers was decent and that was in Year 8. So, maths has been difficult in 9 and 10 as the work has been a lot harder and the teacher was useless, so I've had to ask other teachers and kids in other classes for help."
Mathematics C student - "In Year 8 my teacher was incompetent, teaching by the textbook. In Years 9 and 10 my teacher had little control over the class."
Mathematics C student - "It's been a lottery. Some teachers know their stuff and how to teach it. Other are clueless and shouldn't teach maths."