What makes a good Maths teacher?

I have been pondering the characteristics of a good Maths teacher a lot over the past two years. Along with a number of my colleagues in LIT Tipperary I have been working on a concurrent teacher Education degree for future Maths and Geography teachers. As the co-ordinator of the Maths stream of the degree, I have spent many an hour over that time, pondering and discussing with many of my own colleagues, and academics in other institutions, the characteristics of a good Maths teacher. My own very strongly held view is that the most important quality is a love or a passion for the subject. With this as the starting point, then everything else is possible.  Another quality that is crucial in my view, is an ability to nurture an inquisitiveness about Maths.  Often, when you speak to people with a love of Maths, or even those who don’t hate the subject!, they will refer to a specific teacher.  We should never underestimate the impact that we as Maths teachers have on our students both positively and negatively.  For me this was certainly the case with my secondary school Maths teacher.  She helped to send me on a path that has provided me with a variety of very satisfying careers, which has culminated so far in allowing me to do a job that I love.

Over the course of the development of the degree I have had many empassioned arguments (or discussions as I prefer to call them) as to what the focus of the Maths stream of a Teacher Education degree should be – Maths content vs. methodology.  For me, it goes without saying that Maths teachers should be comfortable with the topics that they are teaching, and I also believe that Maths teachers should be pushed in their own Maths ability as they study to become a Maths teacher.   But where the disagreement has often occurred has been the level of the Maths content that should or shouldn’t be included.  Over the years I have come across many people who have been very comfortable in their own Maths ability but who, in my humble opinion, haven’t been particularly good at imparting that knowledge.   Having an understanding of the topics is not enough – you really need to de-construct the topic and look beyond it to investigate connections between topics and different ways to approach the topics when you are teaching them.  For me, having an understanding of where people struggle with topics is very important, as is approaching topics from different angles, to allow more people to connect with the subject matter.   What do you think?

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2 responses to “What makes a good Maths teacher?

  1. Maths was a scary area for me when I was younger. When I went to secondary school the maths teacher I had for the first three years moved at the pace of the best student in the class. If you were struggling that was your own tough luck and you were made to feel inferior. Subsequently I ended up doing pass maths for my leaving cert – I did however end up getting one of the best teachers I have ever had for those two years. She took time to explain things every which way she could and got us to explain our reasoning back to her. She pinpointed our problem areas and worked from our strengths. I froze during my leaving cert mock maths paperand couldn’t write a thing. I sat for the entire exam staring at the paper. My maths teacher sat me down afterwards and told me I could have gotten an A. She told me I knew the methods but she thought it was my confidence or lack there of that had made me freeze. Every second lunch time after that up until I sat the leaving cert that wonderful teacher practised exam technique and timing with me and I got a great mark in the end up.
    Miss McAteer took the time to listen to me and the time to explain. She never assumed that everyone in the class understood everything and she treated us all as individuals not just one mass of students to disseminate information to. She changed how I felt about maths – so much so that I ended up teaching maths at secondary level for a while 🙂
    Thank you for the blog Pam – you brought back great memories of a great teacher.

    • Maggie,
      Many have had similar experiences with Maths teachers – I was lucky to have a fantastic Maths teacher for my Leaving Cert and I try to bring some of what I experienced in her classes into my own. Unfortunately some people never get past their fear or hatred of Maths.
      Pam.

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