Dr. Xiaobo She educates future math teachers, but her passion lies in reteaching those already working in classrooms across the Southland.
“Often, teachers say to me, ‘I love to teach, but I’m not good in math.’ It’s stunning to hear that from a math teacher,’’ said She, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at Governors State University (GSU) and coordinator of field experience for aspiring teachers.
In this algebra equation for success, the young professor has solved for X—the confidence math teachers are lacking.
Since joining GSU in 2012, she has received nearly $400,000 in grants to assess the efficacy of math teachers across the Southland—and she’s seeing better teachers and brighter students.
The China native, who holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, is on a personal mission to help her students and those currently in the classroom make an international impact by building a stronger math foundation in the U.S., where the demand for techies is booming.
“Other countries are doing so well with STEM careers, which demand a solid math foundation. We have to help our students develop mathematical mindsets and skills in order to compete globally. It’s not an option. It’s what we MUST do.”
GSU Newsroom: You say the GSU Teacher Education attracted you here. What makes the program outstanding?
She: The faculty’s commitment to students is great. They put students in the classroom at the start of the program, and every semester you are assigned to different grade levels to teach different subjects. When you student teach, you are well prepared for the field experience.
GSU Newsroom: How did your chemistry major help you transition to education?
She: Studying lab experiments taught me to do everything carefully and check my work. It was good to develop a habit of critical thinking just like a scientist. When I decided against chemistry, I remembered that I always wanted to be a teacher. In China, teachers are respected because we change people’s lives.
GSU Newsroom: How would you characterize the approach to math in the U.S. vs. China?
She: In Eastern culture —Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan—math is considered the easiest subject because it is so structured and coherent. There’s little variation. If you are not good at reading or writing, we understand because grammar is so challenging. In the U.S., it’s the opposite. Here, everybody can read and write, but many teachers and students are afraid of math.
GSU Newsroom: So how do we fix that?
She: In the past five years, I have received five grants totaling nearly $400,000 from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Foundation and Governors State. The grants allowed me to work with the teachers at multiple early childhood centers and school districts. For the Early Math Awareness through Modeling program, we went to schools in Blue Island and Robbins every month to train a cohort of 30 Pre-K teachers who were not confident in their capabilities to teach math. We did pre- and post-assessments for the teaching efficacy scales and found significant improvements in confidence in themselves, as well as their content knowledge base for math. That was very inspiring for us. Over four years, we trained more than 100 teachers across the south suburbs.
GSU Newsroom: You received another grant to train teachers through 2019 for Kindergarten through 3rd grade. What’s your ultimate goal for teachers?
She: When teachers are more confident in teaching, students become more confident and willing to wrestle with challenging math problems. We want teachers to see math is not fundamentally difficult. We want them to open their eyes and ears to new ideas and bring them back to students. I tell them, ‘Remember, you are holding your students’ future.’