What Is a Math Teacher?
A math teacher is an education professional who specializes in teaching middle grades through high school students the full range of mathematical disciplines. Their primary objective is to deliver state approved mathematics curriculum. Public school math teachers have bachelor’s degrees from state approved teacher preparation programs and a corresponding state credential. Post-secondary mathematics teachers have at least a master’s degree and a state license.
Steps to Becoming a Math Teacher
To become a mathematics teacher, you need quite a bit of education and training that leads to a state license. Thus, you must first find a fully accredited, state approved teacher preparation program at a college that also supports a strong mathematics department. That is, you should also focus your non-education coursework on mathematics, as you will need to demonstrate your competence on a standardized examination. In fact, many mathematics teachers have double majored with math or at least have a minor in the subject.
However, before you step into your first education course, you should make sure that you are dedicated to teaching. Your young students deserve a teacher who is passionate about teaching and helping young minds master the skills they will need in adulthood. Thus you should be prepared to put in lots of extra hours helping students with study sessions, extracurricular activities such as a math or science club, and even coaching if you have an aptitude for a particular sport.
Steps to Take:
Step 1: Is This for Me?
Step 2: Academic Preparation
Step 3: Testing
Step 4: Licensure and Beyond
Step 1: Is This for Me?
The teaching profession is not like most jobs. You must be dedicated to helping and teaching students beyond any other concerns. You are likely to spend very long hours grading and preparing lessons, endure difficulties in the classroom, and then wrangle with issues like a lack of teacher resources. However, if you love teaching and live for those special students who turn a corner while under your wing, then this is the profession for you.
As a dedicated mathematics teacher, you will likely work with students in middle school and above, so they will be a bit more autonomous than elementary students. You also won’t be burdened by much grading, as many math tests are graded by an electronic scanner. Nevertheless, you must feel the calling to teach. It’s a special profession that needs special people.
Step 2: Academic Preparation
All mathematics teachers must at least have completed a bachelor’s degree that includes an accredited, state-approved teacher preparation program. You should probably double major in education and mathematics, but that’s not always a requirement. State licensure requirements vary, but you will at least need to pass the subject area test for mathematics for your chosen age group or grade.
During your college years, you will need to complete a student teaching experience. Among seasoned professionals, student teaching is considered a vital rite of passage. During that term you will work with a mentor whose classroom you will overtake for a few weeks. You will also likely have a faculty mentor back on the university campus to help you organize lesson plans, handle classroom management issues, and more.
During your undergraduate years, work with an academic adviser to craft a course of study that will give you not only the pedagogical skill, but the subject-area expertise, you need to truly succeed.
Step 3: Testing
At some point later in your college years you will want to satisfy your state’s requirements for standardized testing. Most states require that you pass at least two tests: the PRAXIS I general skills test and then a PRAXIS II subject area examination that qualifies you to teach mathematics. Depending on your strength in mathematics, this examination should not be much trouble.
However, some aspiring teachers have found that their particular subject area test included obscure items that they were not prepared for. Luckily, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the company that administers the PRAXIS exams, provides ample study material. Further, you are sure to have fellow students above and below you who are sitting for that exam. Discuss the exam with your peers to see if you can glean any pointers. That is, should you spend most of your time brushing up on Algebra, or is the focus more on Geometry?
Also, you should be aware that not every state uses these standardized national tests. Those states which do not use the PRAXIS exams, will instead use their own state tests or another national exam. You should still be able to find study material for any test you’ll need to take, but you’ll want to check with your states Board of Education to verify which test you’ll need to complete.
Step 4: Licensure and Beyond
Once you have successfully completed the academic and testing portion of the process, you should move forward to completing the rest of your application. Depending on your state, you will probably need a letter of recommendation from your education department, a background check, and the recommendation of a hiring principal. Sometimes you won’t be fully licensed until you land a job.
Your first few years are likely to be spent on a conditional license. Some states may include a rigorous mentorship period that will help you gain a true mastery of the profession. You may also need to complete other requirements. Your university program should prepare you for these eventualities.
Once you’re licensed and an active, professional teacher, you will need to maintain your license with continuing education units (CEUs.) Nearly every state requires that teachers take a prescribed number of hours in Continuing Education. You will have to complete this requirement prior to the end of every licensure renewal period, else your license may lapse and thus jeopardize your ability to renew an employment contract. You can often take CEUs online, from a local community college, or even at teaching conferences. Your school district may also arrange CEU opportunities.
What Does a Math Teacher Do?
Mathematics teachers are professionals who are hired to deliver a state’s mathematics curriculum to their students. As a math teacher, you will likely work in an institutional school setting where you will spend the majority of your day in your own classroom. You will teach five or six groups of students and will have one class period off to prepare your lessons, grade papers, or tutor students.
You will start your days with a homeroom group of students who may or may not be your actual students. They will report to your classroom for roll call, morning announcements, and other administrative functions. The remainder of your day will be spent teaching the day’s lessons.
If you are in a high school, you might teach a variety of classes and grade levels. You may have a few classes full of Algebra students, one or two Geometry classes, and perhaps a Calculus course for college-bound seniors. Middle Grades Mathematics Teachers will teach the same mathematics curriculum to all students all day, as you will be set to teach one specific grade. Thus, if you are an 8th Grade teacher, you will likely spend all day teaching Pre-Algebra.
Keep in mind that most schools like to see teachers take on extra-curricular duties as well. As a mathematics teacher, you might start a math club, or maybe you also have computer programming skills and can organize a club around that activity. Athletically and artistically inclined educators might become coaches or be active with student theater.
Skills to Acquire
To be a highly qualified Mathematics Teacher, you will need high level mathematics skills. You should have a full working knowledge of Algebra and Geometry. You can only help your career by having credentials related to Calculus, Statistics, and even Computer Science.
If you start your teaching career with a strong grounding in Geometry and Algebra, you can always focus your CEU time on learning about computer programming or even formal logic. Over time you might be able to teach these subjects to your regular students or offer tutoring as part of an after-school job.
You must also have a strong set of interpersonal skills when you step into your classroom. Here is a brief rundown:
It’s vital to understand your students when they are striving to learn the subject matter. Mathematics can be difficult and frustrating, so open and accepting ears will help everyone succeed.
Not all students will have a natural aptitude for mathematics, and they will need a bit of patience so that they don’t become frustrated and defeated.
- Classroom Management
You will take courses on this skill set in your teacher preparation program. Help students take ownership for their behavior and learning.
When you are organized and on top of your lessons, students will understand and trust the situation. This is a key part of classroom management.
There are other ways of becoming a teacher. If you have a bachelor’s degree but not a degree in teaching, many states have alternative programs to help you enter the classroom as an educational professional. First you must be able to show that your degree relates to the subject matter you intend to teach. Thus, a degree in Accounting might help you teach mathematics. Degrees in the sciences or mathematics itself will also help.
If you are seeking an alternative route, you will need to find a principal to hire you. One way to meet principals and other faculty is by substituting for a variety of schools. When you express your desire to enroll in additional classes and dedicate yourself to teaching, a principal might hire you for a full-time position.
When you enter an alternative licensure program, you will probably be paired with a mentor who will help guide you through the pathway to licensure. You will need to take education courses while you work, and you must also pass the required subject area PRAXIS test. Naturally, you must still pass a background check and otherwise show yourself to have excellent moral character.
You can also consider teaching in private schools, which do not require state licensure. However, individual schools may want you to take education courses such as Classroom Management or Theories of Pedagogy. Private schools do not have standardized requirements the same way public schools do.
If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree but wish to start working in schools, you could consider a two-year degree and Paraprofessional or Teacher Assistant licensure. This way you can gain valuable classroom experience while you decide whether to complete the requirements for a teaching credential. You will also become familiar with principals and other faculty who may have helpful advice for developing your career.
Career & Salary
Where Might You Work?
Mathematics Teachers can work in a variety of environments. You could work in public schools at the middle grades or high school level. Other teachers work in private schools and there are also teachers who work on military bases.
With a state license, you can work for a state’s public schools. This option provides standardized pay rates and reliable work opportunities. You might also have union representation to help stabilize salaries and help you attain the resources you need.
If you have a mathematics degree and love students, but haven’t completed a teacher preparation program, you might teach in a private school. Private schools offer greater flexibility in terms of curriculum and overall educational focus.
These institutions are offshoots of a state’s public-school system. You will probably still need a full state teaching credential, but you can find schools that focus on STEM subjects. Thus, you might work with students who are especially focused and motivated to learn math.
If you have a state teaching credential, you can apply to teach in military schools worldwide. You will maintain your civilian status, but you can teach soldier’s children on bases across the nation and globe. This is a great opportunity for teachers who love travel and adventure.
College or University:
With a master’s degree, you can consider teaching at the post-secondary level. If your advanced degree is in mathematics, you will likely teach that. However, you could earn an M.Ed. and teach future mathematics educators.
There are more and more opportunities for teachers who wish to teach mathematics online. High school students who have had trouble in traditional classrooms now can take credits from home. You can also tutor students via an online medium. This way, students in underserved schools can receive higher level math courses than they could previously.
Potential Career Paths
As a mathematics teacher you have many options available to you. Your teaching degree and experience will always provide opportunities, as teachers are all highly organized, effective communicators. These are the core skills of managers, technical writers, and salespeople. With your math skills you can surely add to that list with a range of technological or business specialties.
Here is a brief list to get you thinking of the opportunities that mathematics teaching will open for you:
Depending on your state’s requirements you may need further coursework, but you will certainly need to pass the PRAXIS II subject test for elementary teachers. You will still teach math, but at a lower level, but you’ll add language arts, social studies, and science to your teacher’s toolkit.
Middle Grades Teacher:
Your state’s licensure might allow you to teach middle or high school. If you are teaching high school and wish to change to middle grades, you can always do so with additional coursework and satisfactory PRAXIS II scores.
Secondary School Teacher:
High school mathematics teachers are able to branch into higher level mathematics courses such as statistics and calculus. You might also be able to teach accounting or what is known as business math.
With a master’s degree, you can teach college-level courses, such as college algebra or college calculus. If you have a M.Ed., you can teach budding educators in the art of pedagogy.
Businesses, policy think tanks, and government agencies all need statisticians to help make sense of the huge amount of data they aggregate. If you have the necessary coursework or experience in statistics, you can pursue this occupation.
Many mathematicians make excellent computer programmers. While you teach during the day you can learn a coding language at night. Many teachers take on side projects where they develop games, productivity apps, or other software projects. If you decide to switch careers, computer programming might be a great avenue to pursue.
Your mathematical abilities will come in handy for a marketing firm or department who needs someone to crunch the numbers and assess the outcomes. If you have some marketing coursework in your background or simply strong statistical aptitude you will do well in this field.
This is a business field that works with supply chain management. Often accounting majors are a great fit for the rigorous analytical skills the field demands. Your ability to manage students on top of your quantitative skill will be invaluable for employers.
Math Teacher Salaries
|Operations research analyst||$31,000||$68,000||$104,000|
**Salary info provided by PayScale
The outlook for mathematics teachers is quite bright. The field continues to grow at a steady pace, and the pay rates likewise continue their steady growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the occupational sector of High School teachers will grow by 8% through 2026. This is an average rate of growth. However, if you look in metropolitan areas where there is high growth, you are bound to find more teaching opportunities.
Given that the push is on to train students in vital STEM subjects, the future is especially bright for mathematics teachers. There are more alternative teaching routes available for potential STEM teachers, and the pay rates are often higher, too. If you have a strong mathematical aptitude, you might consider strengthening your high-tech skills with programming abilities or other Information Technology skills. The more skills you have, the more valuable you will be for a school district.
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Advancing from Here
Mathematics teachers are in the enviable position of having skills that are highly valued throughout the teaching world as well as in government and private business. However, if you wish to remain in education, you can work towards an M.Ed. and focus on administration. With that degree, plus the required exam, you can move into a position as a Vice Principal. From there, you can move on to Principal and then perhaps School Superintendent.
Experienced teachers are also in high demand as business managers, salespeople, and educational consultants, among other fields.
Education Career Paths