Math Teachers: The Nation Builders of the 21st Century

“It doesn’t matter what the academic subject is – or the age of the student. From the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is the teacher,” said Secretary Duncan earlier today at the annual meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in Indianapolis, Indiana.

In the speech, the Secretary once again pointed to South Korea and Singapore, two countries that revere teachers as “nation builders.”

“In those countries, everyone understands that teachers are preparing the leaders and workers who will ensure the country’s long-term economic prosperity. In America, our teachers aren’t treated like the nation builders that they are.”

Math, as part of well-rounded education, will be key to America’s success in the 21st century. Students who have completed Algebra II in high school are twice as likely to earn a degree as those who didn’t. Secretary Duncan noted that Algebra provides a foundation of using logic to solve problems and to make connections between multiple pieces of information.

Young students learning multiplication tables today will be this country’s future mechanics, engineers, doctors and nurses. The Secretary explained to the math teachers at the meeting that whatever today’s students do 30 years from now:

The mathematics they’re learning today will provide the foundation for their success – and for the long-term prosperity of our country. Thank you for being the nation builders who are making that happen.


  1. if the teacher is vitally important (and I agree that he/she is), then why do parents, the unrelated public and popular media continue to vilify them?

    Making teachers happy, and making teaching a career that the TOP college graduates want is not an abstract concept, as it is so often presented.

    Make it competitive with the rest of society. Pay that equals the responsibility. Benefits that won’t be cancelled, or reduced on the whim of politicians. Autonomy to do what is best for the students at the classroom level and be creative. Strict policies for removal of innefective teachers, and a clear and thought-out series of steps for said removal. Removal of meddling policies from the state and federal government, keep your hands out of our cookie jar. FAIR distribution of resources – based on socioeconomics of the area and the personal characteristics of the students in the school (in other words, low-income kids are going to need more!!! MORE support than high-income kids . . . Imagine that.).

    I imagine that the hardest one of these is Fair distribution of resources. Those with the most are quite good at making sure their kids have the most. Along these same lines, they are also the ones with clear lines of communication with policy makers. So, stepping on toes, in this instance for policy makers, will require that they probably lose their kick-backs and unseen benefits. But I always thought that they were servants for the greater good of all, not just for their own greater good.

    In other words, treat our teachers like professionals, but more so, like adults.

  2. I totally agree with the idea that the teacher is almost everything , because I am in this field and I always say that the teacher is the first man in any civilization

  3. The teacher is not as important as Mr. Duncan
    thinks. Yes, a teacher can inspire and HELP motvate,
    but cannot give a child intelligence or the desire to learn.
    A child comes into a class not as a blank slate, but with heredity and with
    the effects of years of child rearing, nutritional differences, exposure to
    urban or rural environments, rich in varied
    stimuli or poor. A child is then subject to many
    factors within and without the classroom.
    A teacher is subject to the curriculum he is told to teach to,
    previous teachers’ input, class size, etc.
    The teacher is important but only one of many factors.

  4. Your observation that other countries clearly understand that educators are the guardians of their future leaders, “In those countries, everyone understands that teachers are preparing the leaders and workers who will ensure the country’s long-term economic prosperity. In America, our teachers aren’t treated like the nation builders that they are.” In America, teachers in general, and math teachers in particular have not been accorded their just due as the educators of our leadership of tomorrow . Instead, they continue to be underpaid and unsupported in heavy task of educating our future leaders despite their many challenges. Sir, your comments were like a breathe of fresh air.

  5. The real subject of these comments by Duncan is “nation building” and career building with loans that will make them indentured servant to a government that is mostly operating on behalf of the military and the large corporations.
    It certainly is not about math considering our numbers on the budget mostly were a mystery to both parties or intentional lies. The intent of the new budget is to destroy a nation not to build it up.

  6. The problem with Mathematics and America is in the Language, Math is not compatible with the english language. For Example, What is the definition of Congruent? How does Congruent relate to modern English? The truth is, its a word without real meaning, and Mathematics is full of them. If you dont know what someone wants done with an equation using exotic definitions, how can you expect to be good at something?

  7. We tend to teach content subjects in isolation of other content areas and we fail to integrate the skills and knowledge learned in one course into another. The transfer of knowledge requires learning that integrates skills into other situations. Learning should be authentic with real world application in order to prepare students for the competitive world of work, and requires that US educators integrate course content across various domains. It is not enough that students know the facts and can “do Algebra”. We have to show them where Algebra skills are utilized and how. When a student asks—why do I have to know this and the educator cannot answer the question in some context of real world application there is a problem. You want to see students engaged and excited about learning—put them in a collaborative setting with a real life problem, and give them the tools—they will find a solution. I think learning—not schooling—should be our focus. Gail Derrick

  8. Is it the Algebra Ii content or the fact that most colleges require it (and therefore NOT having Alg II translates to no entry into college)? Most students do not automatically transfer skills and processes from one situation or content to another. Are there more efficient ways to teach problems solving — such as teaching these skills explicitly and infusing it into every content area?

  9. I think that too many people do not correlate problem solving and math. As noted, Algebra provides a problem solving foundation that can be applied beyond numbers. The reality is that no matter what career or lifestyle choice a person pursues they will need to solve problems. Those who have the right mathematics foundation will be more likely to solve those problem easily and see more success in their life.

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