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?