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Should math teachers have math degrees?

Should math teachers have math degrees?

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Edutopia editor, Grace Rubenstein, passed along this interesting story in EdWeek today: recent research has shown that all this emphasis on teacher qualification may be misguided in at least one area: math. It seems there's no strong evidence that teachers who have college math degrees get better results with students than teachers who don't, at least in elementary and middle school. Here's a quote: Math teachers need to “know the subject matter well and how to teach it,” said Deborah Loewenberg Ball, a scholar who has studied math teaching extensively. “The problem is that the math major is not a good proxy for that.” What do you folks think?

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Wannabe Math Teacher's picture

I have a BA in sociology and communications, an MEd in Counseling and I teach math for adult ed. I would like to pursue another degree so that I will be ablt to comfortablty teach in a pubic school at smoe point. What is the next best degree for me to pursue? MAT in teaching Math? MST in teaching Math? Another MEd, but for Math Teaching? I have already begun taking classes so that I can be prepared for entrance into a program. Please give me advice about which degree to pursue. i know there are other routes to becoming a teacher but I would like to have both the knowledge and the paper to back me up.

Linda Fahlberg-Stojanovska's picture

Now - there's a question. Math or MEd. Neither value the experience of teachers in the field. I am math - but definitely you do not want to teach math as most mathematicians teach mathematics. It is too "mathy" - too removed from real life for the kiddies. It took me years to unlearn when teaching. On the other hand MEd does not teach solving math - it teaches "understanding, wishy, washy" math and it is questionable whether you will actually see any mathematics being solved in any useful or even correct way. In the end, the kiddies actually have to pass exams that require solving math so even if you think MEd is appropriate (and clearly I don't), it won't help you in the classroom. I understand that there is a trend towards accepting degrees outside of these 2 mainstream approaches - something like "Teach for America" which values the experience of good teachers. Experienced teachers know the "good questions", they've seen it all, the new math, the old math, the old-new math, they know what works and how to recognize blank faces. So if I had to do it again - that's what I would look for - a degree program that uses experienced teachers as its backbone.

shan's picture

In my opinion, I disagree that it is mandatory for teachers whom want to teach math to get a math degree. First of all, some teachers who are majoring in Physics, Computer Sciences, Chemstry also have a deep mathematical background. It is a easy for those teachers to teach some basic curriculums. Secondly, I should say that it highly depends on what kind of math courses are teached. If the class is like easier math class, it is also required teachers who is majoring in Math.

Jerry's picture
Online college math teacher, teaching college algebra and statistics

This is an interesting issue!

I would like to add that if your state requires for licensing the Praxis Middle School or High School Math exam given by ETS, or one of the similar individual state exams given by Pearson, the math demands of those exams are not too severe. A strong high school math student can pass those exams.

As far as majoring in math, I like to think someone has chosen this major because of their passion for the subject, and I question if someone from another major truly has the same passion. I do math for fun - do you?

Finally, I would like to suggest in the my teaching, someone always asks a question beyond the scope of the course and whose answer can not be found in the textbook for the course - how will the non-math major teacher respond?


Julie Santaniello's picture

I have a math degree. So, I can "do" math very well. I also have degrees in education. Teaching and doing math are two very different things. College level and grade school math are also very different things. NOTHING about having mastered abstract algebra makes me better at explaining fractions to students. I don't agree that creativity makes you a better teacher. I think it makes you a more interesting teacher and gets students motivated more easily. I do believe that a profound understanding of fundamental mathematics and the ability to elaborate on the WHY and not just the HOW makes a teacher good.

P.Horton's picture
Seventh grade Science, Math and PE teacher from Kelowna, BC, Canada

In my experience, teachers with Math degrees do not always make the best Math teachers. Math teachers need to be able to help students that do not understand concepts. Teachers that have never struggled with math concepts may not know how to explain concepts to students that are struggling.

Bonnie Yelverton's picture
Bonnie Yelverton
New job (2 years after credentialling) in Science in southern California

I agree - mostly because that is what I have done. The math and science I had was years ago, and although I've used some of it in other careers, I certainly haven't used all of it. So I studied math intensely for several months (barely doing anything else) and passed the state math teacher exams easily. I feel that by learning the material recently and knowing what helped me learn it has been a good way to know how to teach it. But I have also been actively participating in the NCTM, reading everything I can find about teaching math and science, which I believe means 1) being passionate about math and 2) helping students figure it out for themselves, not by my telling them all my great wisdom about the subject.

Bonnie Yelverton's picture
Bonnie Yelverton
New job (2 years after credentialling) in Science in southern California

A non-math major can be very passionate about math, when s/he has decided to take a second career about something that interests her. I have studied numerous books on math, math history, math pedagogy, etc. because it interests me, not just to pass the test. I sometimes think that I know more about actually teaching math than some teachers I've met (maybe even with a degree) who have been teaching too long and using the same methods year after year with the same results - losing the ones at the bottom, boring the ones at the top.
I don't think it is possible to generalize who will be a good math teacher according to whether they happened to major in math - particularly second-careerists. I have seen second careerists who majored in math but have only used, say, statistics, in their work have a hard time passing the tests, because they thought they knew it all, but they were out of practice - and there are new aspects of math now being taught in HS which weren't not all that long ago, like matrix theory and vectors (which used to be taught by the physics teacher.)

Bonnie Yelverton's picture
Bonnie Yelverton
New job (2 years after credentialling) in Science in southern California

My own children had most of their education in Denmark. They had a separate math teacher from very early grades, maybe even first grade. And interestingly enough, so did I, from 4th grade on, back in the 50's in NJ. As a high school math teacher, I fear that some of the students who have reached Algebra without having a dedicated math teach in elementary school got lost somewhere, maybe because the teacher wasn't passionate about the subject or even liked it.

Jerry's picture
Online college math teacher, teaching college algebra and statistics

I agree with one of the earlier posters - I think the key is passion. I majored in math because I love math. Hopefully my students can see that. If you didn't major in math, you might be competent to teach certain math courses, but there is a reason you didn't major in math - because you loved something else more. But I do wonder how much math needs to be retaught and relearned when students are taught in elementary and middle school by teachers who are not as strong as they think they are in math.

Jerry Tuttle

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