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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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Chris Fancher's picture

I have seen my share of bad math teachers who have math degrees. However, the number of science teachers I have seen who know no math above Pre-Algebra is scarey. To think of teachers from other professions - accountants, business majors, etc. being allowed to just come into the education profession without significant math-education classes is unthinkable. I realize that a truly good teacher can teach any subject. But, to be able to show mathematics in multiple forms so that we are able to differentiate our instruction requires an in depth knowledge of the subject.

LauraFox's picture

I've been subbing in a math class lately, while the school searches for a new full-time math teacher. I always considered myself to be pretty good at math ... I completed Calculus and still retain everything through pre-Calc. Nevertheless, I'm not sure that I make a great math teacher. I lack the passion for the subject that makes it possible to constantly differentiate instruction and think on the spot of new ways to approach a problem.

I think an individual without a math degree could be a good math teacher, provided he/she has the math knowledge and the passion for the subject. In my mind it would be helpful if states allowed teachers to take a content area test to prove a thorough understanding of the subject without requiring a degree in math. Then ask the teacher-to-be to complete the necessary education coursework and prove their passion during student teaching.

mh's picture
High School Mathematics in an alternative setting

Do colleges require those responsible for math insruction to have a degree in math? (emphasis on responsible) Why lower the standard just because the students are younger? Many of the issues that develop with student comprehension of mathematics in higher level mathematics courses stem from the lack of indept understanding of mathematics that is often not available with mathematics teachrs who do not have math degrees and the mathematics background to fully develop a concept.

Brian Licata's picture

I teach in Ny and passed the state content test, but did not get my degree in math. I think you need to be knowledgeable about the subject and have a passion for teaching it, but you do not need to be a mathematician. I took more math in high school and college than was required of me, but it is my passion and innovation that drives my curriculum

Annette Loubriel's picture
Annette Loubriel

The person who teaches math must have thorough knowledge of the CONCEPTS associated with the basic mathematical operations. To teach these concepts is an art because the more creative you are, the better you will be at grasping the new technology for teaching these concepts at different levels. For example, in my territory I have seen through informal survey among people I know that teachers are not introducing algebra concepts that are supposed to be introduced early in elementary school. Thus leaving the entire task to the sixth or seventh grade math teacher, and making math a nightmarish experience for most individuals.

Tia Anderson's picture

Mh, I see your point about not lowering standards for younger children. At the same time since elementary teachers are generally teaching math, science, reading, writing and social studies, is it reasonable to expect these teachers to have multiple degrees in all subjects.? There has to be a better solution.

Tia Anderson's picture

Betty Ray, thanks so much for posting this. This issue is exactly what I have been dealing with. I have a BLA in English & Spanish and an MAT in elementary education. After teaching a 2/3 grade using Investigations and CGI in problem solving, I realized how much I didn't know much about teaching math nor the deep concepts required for being able to construct and deconstruct numbers efficiently, manipulate them and see their relationships to each other. My guess is that a lot of elementary teachers have a similar background and only learned math with algorithms which led to computational skills but little in-depth understanding.

After looking into my options and already in debt from my master's degree, I decided against going back to school. Earning a certificate in teaching math up to the middle school level required more than one year at my local community college and lots more money I don't have. Since my state, Oregon, offers a state praxis test in teaching middle school math in order to have an endorsement, I decided to teach myself. I am currently unemployed by choice at the moment (though job prospects in Portland for teachers are very slim). I have slowly discovered a passion of mine for teaching math to kids who are scared or anxious about it like I was because I know it shouldn't be that way. However, I don't want to teach math without being confident in my ability to teach it. Therefore, I am reading through a list of books: John Van De Walle's book on Elementary and Middle School Mathematics, How the Brain Learns Mathematics (David Sousa), Children's Mathematics-CGI (Carpenter et al), Writing in Math Class & Math and Literature (Marilyn Burns), Good Questions for Math Teaching K-6 (Sullivan) and Good Questions for Math Teaching 5-8 (Schuster). There are some more too as well as articles and websites online. My main concern is I never took calculus so I will probably have to learn some of that as well. I imagine if I teach 8th grade math, the highest grade I'm authorized to teach, some kids might be needing to prepare for calculus and I'd want to be able to help them.

I also blog about my learning at www.investigateyourworld.com

I feel that "growing" good math teachers requires far more than having a degree and it limits people like me with enthusiasm and (hopefully) good teaching methods who don't have a degree in math. The difference is I want to help kids understand and be excited when they encounter mathematical concepts and problems. Many MS & HS math teachers want to help kids learn procedural concepts and be prepared to pass the SAT and other tests.

MDavis's picture

If you know the content area, and have great discipline then one doesn't have to have a math degree. I have seen people with math degress come in and stay for about a month and then they leave. No one told them that one needs to engage students or they will walk all over you.

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