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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

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.” http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/11/25/13mathteach.h29.html What do you folks think?

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Linda Fahlberg-Stojanovska's picture

==In response to: Caryn Pernu - Posted on 4/15/2010 1:56pm
There was a fascinating article in the NY Times today on U.S. math teacher preparation ...==
Very interesting article! I looked at the problem posed. This is a great question. It is stated simply and clearly. It requires breakdown and logical thinking skills and and can be solved in several different ways. Even though it is "purely" geometric, solving it shows life skills. This is why we study math in school - to learn how to think.
Compare this with the problem posed in by the new "Common Core Standards" in the US also illustrated in an article in the NYT: http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/22/national-academic-stan.... What would your answer be?
This is the kind of difficult (but non-rigorous) question that we in the US consider important in mathematics? Don't get me wrong - understanding all of the difference between a problem starting with "Simplify the expression..." and one with "Solve the equation..." is vital. But this question does not clarify THAT issue at all. It is just playing words and calling it mathematics.

CHRISTY40's picture

If you are aware of the education curriculum,maybe not since you made that comment in your post. We are required to take and pass the math content area of the praxis exam. so what is your issue?

CHRISTY40's picture

that is with any content area. If you don't have the passion you want last a month. If you don' have good classroom management skills, you want be successful either. Being a teacher in general is much more than the content you teach, it takes heart and a lot of hard dedicated work just like any other profession

JAnne's picture
Special education, science-math teacher, instructional coach

After 33 years, many of them in a math or integrated math-science classroom at the grade 3-7 level, I feel that, while a degree in math has not been essential to teach math concepts and skills effectively at this level, additional training has absolutely been necessary. Kudos to mentors such as Marilyn Burns and to well-supported math programs such as Connected Math and Chicago Math. Understanding the process skills outlined by NCTM and others is a critical piece of the formula for student success that goes far beyond rote learning of algorithms. I find it hard to believe that, after 33 years in the profession, so many students (and many elementary level teachers) are still so math-phobic. This is a tragedy, and it has a life-long impact for many students who later avoid professions that these students see as using "a lot of math." My own children, now college-age, were very turned off by many of their middle and high school math teachers who had degrees but taught the subject in a tedious way that left my kids uninspired and unmotivated, with little sense of relevance for the skills they were learning to "pass the class." In only one high school math class was my son really motivated, and the teacher took the risk to seat his students at round tables to encourage discussion and relevant project work. After that class, my son stated that he NEVER wanted to sit in rows in a math class again. Sadly, that teacher was a "rare gem" at the school, and my son regretfully sat in rows for all subsequent math courses, motivation declining over time. Both of my children have avoided math courses in their higher education studies, though both use applied math successfully in many facets of their lives. While I believe a math degree is necessary to teach math at the high school level, the high school math teacher needs a full range of effective teaching practices to successfully engage and inspire his or her students to pursue math beyond the current course of study.

Clionina's picture

I have been teaching math at the secondary (grades 7 - 12) level for five years and I am glad to have a B.A. in Math. I was always good at math and actually planned to get a degree in Physics...when that didn't pan out I went for the next best thing: Math. The thing is, I always "did" math because I could - not because I had a passion for it. It wasn't until I took higher level courses in my undergrad as well as in my grad work (although some might see as irrelevant to MS or HS curriculum) where I truly began to appreciate the beauty of mathematics and grew a passion for it. Now I take that appreciation and impress it upon my students - it better prepares a teacher for those "When will we ever need this" or "Where is this going?" questions we all get from students- I must say though I hear it less and less.... The institution where I received my math degree from is also highly accredited for their school of ed. at the same time, so I think a degree in your content area paired with a strong background in pedagogy makes for the best teachers

scott trevathan's picture

They can't find enough math teachers now. How are they going to find them if they have to have a degree in math? I have taught math for 38 years and know the subject well, but I don't have a math degree. I had to take several math classes to get certified in it and feel very qualified to teach it.

marker1's picture
Middle School Math teacher Grade 6

I teach math in middle school. I was trained as a social studies teacher and I have a K through 8 certification as well. I have been teaching sixth grade math for a long time. I believe that many math learners struggle and, if a teacher can understand that struggle and anticipate misunderstandings, then that teacher can intercede with the students and be a cheerleader and guide to success.

marker1's picture
Middle School Math teacher Grade 6

I teach math in middle school. I was trained as a social studies teacher and I have a K through 8 certification as well. I have been teaching sixth grade math for a long time. I believe that many math learners struggle and, if a teacher can understand that struggle and anticipate misunderstandings, then that teacher can intercede with the students and be a cheerleader and guide to success.

Robert Doyle's picture

I can't begin to tell you of how many Math degreed professionals I have met who have little knoledge of math. I worked in engineering for over 20 years, used, and loved math. (And still do!) I read math books as a hobby, and teach math history as a side in my classes. I passed the state math certification test with ease the first time and have found out that many math degreed teacher hopfuls have not faired as well. I believe that if a math teacher truely has a love for the subject they will learn as much as they can about the subject to be able to present their class in an interesting and comprehensive manner for all their students. Sure anyone can make calculus interesting but, try make algebra and fractions interesting to highschool freshmen! That's actually a much more tough job!

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.

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