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Math Teacher Education Programs

Does the Pythagorean theorem give you goosebumps? Can you solve quadratic equations in your sleep? Would you enjoy making these mathematical concepts come alive for the next generation of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers? If so, you may have what it takes to be a math teacher.

Mathematical proficiency is a highly valued skill in today’s world. Education reformers strongly recommend that students in elementary, middle, and high school increase their mathematical skills to gain intellectual capital, enhance their problem-solving abilities, and become more competitive globally.

Math Teacher Job Description

Math teachers are responsible for planning and conducting lessons that teach students math concepts and math problem-solving skills in age-appropriate ways. They employ a variety of teaching strategies to engage students in challenging, meaningful math work. They also devise assessment strategies for evaluating student achievement and communicate with parents and guardians.

Helping students develop core proficiencies that they can apply to all math situations (and to other learning across the curriculum) is an important component of teaching math at any grade level. The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics calls these “mathematical practices.” These practices include:

  • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
  • Reason abstractly and quantitatively
  • Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
  • Model with mathematics
  • Use appropriate tools strategically
  • Attend to precision
  • Look for and make use of structure
  • Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

A big challenge for math teachers is to counteract the belief of many students that they are “bad in math.” Math teachers need to encourage confidence and a positive attitude toward math so that all students realize they have the potential to succeed in mathematics.

Math educators teach different specifics depending on grade level.

Elementary Math Teacher

At the elementary level, math instruction focuses on mathematical basics. Teachers in the primary grades may teach math along with other core subject areas.

Areas that elementary math teachers address include:

  • Counting and cardinality
  • Strategies for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing
  • Place value
  • Fractions
  • Measurement, using a variety of tools
  • Basic geometric concepts
  • Mathematical problem solving

Secondary Math Teacher

At the secondary level, math teachers typically teach only math. Courses are divided into the various branches of math such as algebra, geometry, calculus, and trigonometry.

Specific areas that high school math teachers address include:

  • Ratio and proportion
  • Exponents
  • Rational and irrational numbers
  • Vectors and matrices
  • Functions
  • Modeling
  • Inequalities
  • Reasoning and proofs
  • Using graphs, tables, and charts to represent mathematical ideas

Math Teacher Salary and Career Outlook

According to a recent U.S. Department of Education survey, in the school year 2019–2020 there will be math teacher shortages in 45 states. This means qualified applicants should find plenty of opportunities. Job prospects should be even better in low-income and rural school districts.

The salary you can earn as a math teacher depends on where you teach and which grade level you teach. The following salary information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) outlines the mean yearly salary for elementary and high school teachers in general.

Elementary Teacher Secondary Teacher
Mean Annual Salary $62,200 $64,340
Salary in Top Five States New York: $83,010

Massachusetts: $82,600

California: $80,100

District of Columbia: $79,480

Connecticut: $75,480

New York: $85,300

California: $80,510

Massachusetts: $80,020

Alaska: $77,920

Connecticut: $76,980

Do math teachers earn more than other teachers? There are no statistics for elementary school teachers who have a math endorsement. However, according to payscale.com, dedicated math teachers make slightly more than English language arts teachers and up to 10% more than science and history teachers.

How to Become a Math Teacher

To be a math teacher you must meet state certification requirements. Although these vary from state to state, all states require a bachelor’s degree in education from an approved teacher education program, a student teaching internship, and a passing score on a competency test such as Praxis. Some states offer alternative certification routes for those who got a bachelor’s degree in an area other than education.

Becoming an Elementary School Math Teacher

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) recommends that math teachers complete the equivalent of at least three college-level mathematics courses. Another option is to earn an endorsement as an elementary math specialist. EMS teachers may teach math in one or more grade levels, or they may provide math instruction to pullout groups of students.

Becoming a Middle School or High School Math Teacher

At the middle and high school levels, math teachers typically have a degree in math education. The NCTM recommends that math teachers at this level complete mathematics coursework equivalent to what is required for a major in mathematics outside the education department.

Your math education program will comprise both mathematics courses and teaching methods. In addition to general education courses outlined by your specific program, your course curriculum may have the following courses:

  • Introduction to Teaching Secondary Education: Examines the learning environment, teaching methodologies, and learning theories required to teach at the secondary level
  • Methods for Teaching Mathematics at the Secondary Level: Discusses methods of presentation, development of daily lesson plans, time management, and instructional strategies
  • Research in Classroom Teaching of Mathematics: Provides aspiring teachers with the research tools to evaluate students’ requirements and design and prepare corresponding lesson plans
  • Methods for Practical Experience in Teaching Math: Uses peer critiques and research methodologies to assist aspiring math teachers to develop and demonstrate effective teaching methods
  • Learning Technology in the Classroom: Explores research-based technologies, how digital technologies are customizing education, how students can prepare for change

Advanced Degrees

Although having a master’s or doctorate is generally not required for you to teach math at the primary or secondary level, having an advanced degree can make you a better teacher. These degree programs delve further into mathematics and teaching theory, which can provide you with a broader perspective that translates into greater success in the classroom. Also, if you intend to teach math at the college level, you’ll need to get a doctorate.

Having an advanced degree also usually leads to a higher salary. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in 2015–2016 teachers holding a master’s degree earned up to 20% greater salaries than those holding a bachelor’s degree.

Licensure

All math teachers need to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary across states; most states offer more than one type of license, and the exams required vary as well.

Click on your state on the map at the bottom of the page to learn about specific requirements in your state.

Online Math Degree Programs

There are a wide variety of online math education programs available, including bachelor’s degrees at the elementary and secondary education levels, master’s degrees, doctorate degrees, post-baccalaureate degrees, and even supplemental certificates for current teachers. Because teacher preparation programs contain a student teaching experience, you won’t be able to complete one of these without spending time in a real classroom.

Online programs in math education differ somewhat depending on the school and the degree program, but usually the curriculum is broken into units and each unit is assessed separately. A capstone project and/or internship is generally required at the program’s conclusion. Online math education courses may cover data-driven pedagogy, methods of teaching, curriculum development, and assessment methods.

Depending on a student’s schedule, online bachelor’s degree programs in math education may be completed in three to four years; online master’s, doctorate, post-baccalaureate, and certificate programs may take 18 months to 2 years to complete.

Online degree programs are not for everyone; those who thrive best with the structure, congeniality, and discipline of daily or weekly classroom attendance may prefer to enroll in on-campus courses. Online programs are best for people who are self-directed and don’t mind working alone. They’re also a good choice for people who want to continue working while they pursue higher education.

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