Successful math teachers have certain qualities that make them the experts they are. These are the teachers who are requested by parents, year after year, because of their knowledge, style and handle on the subject; they know what really works for students.
Many textbooks and scholars will say that math teachers should have an extensive knowledge and love of mathematics. This is very helpful, but if math is not the sole reason you get up each morning, don’t worry. A healthy command of mathematics literacy is just fine.
Good primary math teachers, in particular, seem to possess an endless amount of patience, because there are many different ways that students actually learn mathematics. And they learn at many different speeds. Math teachers are not frustrated by do-overs. Or complete start overs.
Understanding Piaget’s theory on how youngsters create logic and number concepts is time well spent for math teachers. It underscores the necessity of knowing your students, so you can serve them well.
A recent blog from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics speaks to the need for teacher preparation programs to change, in order to avoid teaching children rules before they are developmentally ready to understand them.
Flexibility is key, too, since addressing multiple intelligences takes time, and lots of creative energy. Try skip counting to that beloved wedding reception staple “Macarena” for kinesthetic learners. “2-4-6-8…Heyyyy, Multiplication!”
Math teachers need the ability to do quick error analysis, and must be able to concisely articulate what a student is doing wrong, so they can fix it. This is the trickiest part of being a good math teacher. It helps if you have natural ability—but in time, this can be developed. Ask any veteran math teacher, and he’ll tell you that after ten years, you get pretty good at continuous formative assessments. And the Macarena, too.
Plus, don’t even try to send home math homework that isn’t specifically targeted to what students are learning in class. With math, you must be explicit. Precision is the name of the game, so your homework direction must be, too.
Remember that more isn’t better when assigning math problems. Five to 10 focused problems works well. And please return that checked homework the next day, whenever possible, with examples of how your student can improve. You’ll be glad you took the time. It will show in your students’ increasing independence, knowledge and confidence.
EdWeek’s blog announced a new initiative last October called the Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership to prepare secondary math teachers for the rigors of new common math standards. That’s excellent news for districts, teachers and students— not to mention for parents who simply cannot help their children with middle school math homework, no matter how hard they try.
Lastly, it’s important to note that good math teachers never live in the past. They live in the here and now. The past is full of all kinds of outmoded algorithims and dated math terms—the very terms that teachers themselves must unlearn so they can re-learn, and keep re-learning. So as you can imagine, a good math teacher appreciates change, and even welcomes it. Throw in a little daily enthusiasm, and you have exactly what it takes to be a great math teacher.