Mathematics Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) have a significant impact on the teaching and learning of mathematics in post-secondary contexts through their work as instructors of record, tutors, graders, and recitation, laboratory, or discussion leaders for mathematics courses. Perhaps more importantly, GSIs are future teachers of mathematics: more than 60 percent of Mathematics PhDs take academic positions that involve post-secondary teaching. In recent years, professional organizations representing the mathematics community have made multiple calls to action that challenge the status quo of undergraduate mathematics teaching and assert the need for instructors to adopt evidence-based teaching practices in their teaching. However, if there is going to be systemic change in how mathematics is taught, this effort needs to include GSIs.
In many cases, GSIs receive brief and limited training for teaching, and researchers have struggled to implement professional development for GSIs that has a lasting effect on their teaching practices. Further, there is limited research that specifically attends to GSIs’ growth as teachers. Therefore, to improve professional development for GSIs, we first need to better understand how they are learning about teaching.
In the study presented in this manuscript, I investigate how seven GSIs at a doctoral-granting university developed as teachers over one academic year. I collected group interview, individual interview, and survey data, and I deductively analyzed the data with complexity science as a theoretical perspective. Specifically, I use the framework of five necessary conditions for learning in a complex system to organize and illustrate the GSIs’ experiences. As a result of this analysis, I find that while all five conditions necessary for growth and expansion of possibilities for teaching are present in the complex system of GSIs, there are components that are not currently as robust as they could be. Informed by this conclusion, I use the language of complexity science and the conditions necessary for learning to provide suggestions for how researchers and educators could structure professional development in the future to better support GSIs’ growth as teachers.