THE ROLE OF TEACHER BELIEFS IN TEACHING MATHEMATICS
The notion that mathematics teachers’ beliefs toward mathematics teaching and learning influence their teaching practice has been suggested by many researchers. Studies have shown that teachers’ beliefs about mathematics teaching and learning are mostly formed during their own schooling and are developed as a result of their own experiences as mathematics students. Their conceptions about mathematics and how it should be taught are deeply rooted and are difficult to change. In order to understand how a teacher’s belief system can significantly influence how that teacher interprets and implements curricula, it is important to distinguish between teacher beliefs and teacher knowledge. Two teachers can have similar knowledge, but use very different teaching approaches based on their differing beliefs (Ernest, 1989).
Teachers who hold the traditional absolutist view about mathematics teaching and learning are more likely to create teacher-centered instructional environment such as teaching mathematics as rules to be memorized. They emphasized performance in their classrooms rather than emphasizing learning and understanding. These teachers also gave students less autonomy and created a classroom environment where mistakes were viewed as something to be avoided rather than creating an environment where there was no risk if a mistake was made. Traditional teaching typically begins with an explanation of whatever idea or concept on the subject being taught followed by showing students how to do the assigned exercises. Even with a hands-on activity, the traditional teacher is guiding students, telling them exactly how to use the materials in a prescribed manner. The focus of the lesson is primarily on getting answers. Students rely on the teacher to determine if their answers are correct. Student emerge from these experiences with a view that mathematics is a series of arbitrary rules, handed down by the teacher. Teachers holding constructivist views of mathematics are expected to adopt student-centered environment by allowing students to explore and interact with each other while teachers act as a facilitator. This view is in line with current reform efforts that ask teachers to lead mathematical explorations and allow students to construct meaning and understanding in mathematics.
Researchers found that the most important obstacle to reform is that teachers’ beliefs and prior experiences of mathematics and mathematics teaching are not congruent with the current approaches to teaching. Ambrose (2001) suggested several avenues for changing belief systems. The first involves the process of reflection and examination of personal beliefs. In this way, inconsistencies can be identified. The second involves making connections among beliefs. This allows one to activate new beliefs in situations where they might not previously have been activated. Another way that belief systems can be changed is by developing a new belief that is connected to existing beliefs. The last belief change is the reversal of an existing belief. However, this type of paradigm shift is uncommon. It should be noted that it is not easy to change the firmly held beliefs of teachers. However, continuous effort should be made to change for the better. Teachers should be encouraged to consider instructional practices that are parallel to the current need in the teaching profession. We need greater collaboration and interaction among teachers. For the benefit of future teachers, teachers training institution should adopt the 21st-century skills in their curriculum.