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Back home: Q&A with Cathy Seeley.

Q: During your two years teaching secondary math with the Peace Corps in West Africa, what did you miss most about the U.S, educational system?

A: I missed access to resources. Here, we take for granted access to textbooks for every subject area and even technology. I would never dream of teaching mathematics at the secondary level without technology that lets us make use of graphical and visual representations. There I had no technology of any kind and not even any textbooks. My teaching aid was a chalkboard. (I taught in a large city, so [we] had electricity, including overhead lights and an electrical outlet. But I never found anything to plug into the outlet.)

When I started working with American schools again, I was reminded how rigid our daily schedules are. My schedule in Burkina Faso was a flexible block. A five-hour class might meet three times in a week. I really liked the longer class periods to go more deeply into problems and mathematical ideas. And teachers had a lot of unscheduled time ... to plan and grade papers.

Q: What did your experiences in a country with a host of complex social, political and human rights issues teach you about the importance of education?

A: The solutions to severe problems begin with education. Whether dealing with the AIDS crisis, water shortage or basic ideas about democracy, solutions start with knowledge about issues, as well as wisdom and creativity about how to solve complex problems. I [saw] first-hand the difficulties generated by widespread ignorance and poverty. I also saw the hope for the future of a nation in the young adults I worked with as they became increasingly able to think, discuss, challenge and generate solutions to problems. We must educate young [Americans] so that they can [help solve] our important societal problems.

Q: In what ways have you shared your Peace Corps experience with other educators upon your return home?

A: It's difficult for me to do any presentation without incorporating my Peace Corps experience a bit. My outlook on life and on mathematics education was both reinforced and transformed. I have become an even stronger advocate for making use of our resources, especially technology, to capitalize on the rich mathematics every student can learn in the hands of a knowledgeable teacher. And I believe more than ever in the importance of a rich education for every student, since human resources are even more valuable than material resources. I developed a Web site, csinburkinafaso.hitspot.net.

Q: Why was algebra chosen as the focus for your ASK ME-Algebra online math initiative at the University of Texas at Austin?

A: Every [U.S.] community has debated how and when we should teach [algebra. The subject] should be incorporated throughout the grades, not reserved for a course called "algebra." In this way, students are much more likely to succeed when they do take an algebra course. The project, at courses.eimc.lac.utexas.edu/askme/inde.html, implements the best we know about how to make a rigorous algebra course meaningful and accessible to all students.

Q: When you become president of NCTM, on what issues do you plan to concentrate?

A: We will continue to advocate a high-quality quality mathematics education for every child, especially through professional development of teachers. We also have to explore how we can support teachers as they deal with increasing demands of high-stakes tests and accountability systems. I will promote the notion of personal leadership--that all mathematics educators have to keep learning and reach out beyond our own classrooms and school buildings to promote excellence in mathematics teaching and learning.

A 30-year educator and change facilitator at the local state and national levels, Cathy Seeley is president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
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Title Annotation:interview with president elect of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
Publication:District Administration
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2003
Words:632
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