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Math Teacher Education: The Process

Love math? If so, you recognize math is much more than numbers. Yes it is vital to enjoy educating students of all ages the many components of learning mathematics: numbers, fractions, statistics, algebra, calculus, problem solving and strategizing. Encouraging students to hypothesize and analyze is a large part of mathematics. Utilizing the skills learned a mathematician translates these valuable skills to every subject beyond math. Math educators provide modern teaching approaches to excite and promote lifelong mathematicians. If the above sounds exciting, learn how to become a math teacher and embark on a career in math education.  

 

1. Get The Right Teaching Education

Teaching in the public schools is a career that is overseen by the states, and each state sets the criteria necessary to become a teacher. The process may be called licensing, certifying or credentialing, but always means the system whereby a state ensures that the teachers in its public schools are fully qualified.

While the exact process may vary from state to state, you’ll find that most states follow one of two processes for individuals who want to become math teachers.

One process is to complete a bachelor’s degree in education, with an emphasis in mathematics. The states will set a minimum amount of coursework for the specialty area, so a student getting an education degree who wanted to teach mathematics would take somewhere between 30 and 45 credit hours in math courses.

Another process that some states follow is for baccalaureate recipients to complete a separate teacher education program. These students study education principles and learn the process of teaching after completing a bachelor’s degree. Teacher education or credentialing programs are generally the equivalent of one to two years of full-time coursework.

In some states, students who already have existing bachelor’s or master’s degrees can become teachers through an endorsement program. That means that graduates with degrees in Mathematics, Mathematical and Scientific Computation, Applied Mathematics or other math degrees are able to use their existing degrees to satisfy the bulk of the academic requirement to become a credentialed teacher.

It’s important to decide whether you want to teach younger grades and get a multiple-subject credential, or teach older grades and get a single-subject credential. If you have a strong interest in specializing in the instruction of mathematics, you may want to consider a single-subject credential, which will direct you toward older grades. The coursework and theoretical principles will vary depending on the ages and grades you want to teach, so most programs will make you decide upon enrollment which track you want to follow.

Finally, some states require that the instructional program be credentialed through the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).  When considering your career path as a math teacher, check with your state’s oversight agency to research the specific education requirements.

2. Take the Required Teaching Exam for Math Teachers

Almost all states require that a graduate from a teacher education program complete an exam, or series of exams, in order to receive his or her teaching license or credential. There are two types of examinations a teacher-to-be may need to take.

The first is a basic skills test. This is a series of examinations that demonstrates competency in core curriculum areas (reading, writing, mathematics) and education practices and theories.

The second is a subject area test. This is a series of examinations to demonstrate competency in a specialty area, and a future math teacher may be required to take the subject area tests in mathematics.

The testing process itself can vary, with some states developing their own examinations for graduates to pass, and some states accessing the national Praxis examination. Many states use the Praxis tests to fulfill a testing requirement, and Praxis offers both basic skills tests and specialty subject area tests. Both basic skills and subject area tests may have several components. Many testing agencies, both state-developed and Praxis, now offer some testing services online.

Each state determines whether or not a teacher completing a single-subject credential will also need to pass a basic skills test, and each state will also determine which portions of any examinations will need to be passed as part of the licensing/credentialing process.

3. Get Your Classroom Experience 

Teachers teach kids. Real kids in real classrooms –and even the best academic instruction can only go so far with helping you learn the dynamics of classroom instruction. That’s where the student teaching experience comes in.

All academic programs that lead to teaching credentials and licenses include a student teaching experience. These are rotations where you are placed in an actual classroom with a mentor teacher to learn the ropes. The student teaching portion is scheduled later in the course of study, usually after most of the coursework has been completed. There will often be a GPA requirement for the pre-requisite coursework, and some programs with require that the qualification examinations be passed before you can be placed in a school.
Student teaching experiences are tailored to fit the credential you’re pursuing, so if your goal is a single-subject credential to teach math, your student teaching experiences will be oriented towards older grades in the relevant subject. (Although you may spend some time doing observations with younger grades, or do a brief stint in elementary schools to learn how to apply various education principles.)

The student teaching experience is designed to allow you to learn how to apply theoretical principles of teaching and instruction to the actual teaching environment. In your student teaching experience, you’ll apply your instruction to learn how to manage these areas in a classroom setting:

  • Lesson planning
  • Information delivery
  • Parent-teacher communication
  • Inter-professional communication
  • Data recording and distribution
  • Testing

Each program sets the length of the student teaching portion of your education, but 300 to 500 hours is common. These hours are part of credited classes that count towards your degree. Generally a specified percentage of each rotation is set that must be in actual classroom instruction.

4. Get the right Teaching License, Credential or Certification

Once you’ve completed your necessary education, and passed the required tests, it’s time to apply to your state for the license, credential or certification required to teach in a public school.

All states have an oversight agency for teachers that manage the licensing/credentialing process – a state board of education, a teacher’s council or professional standards commission. These agencies ensure that all people placed in a position of trust and authority with children have met the necessary criteria and are fully qualified.

While the individual process is unique to each state, the following steps are common and part of the process for many states:

  • Completing the state’s specific application
  • Mailing certified copies of your transcripts to the state board
  • Sending testing scores to the state board
  • Completing a background check
  • Registering your fingerprints with the state
  • Sending letters of recommendation
  • Paying an application fee

If you have a teaching license in another state, the process will vary somewhat, but be prepared to provide copies of transcripts and testing confirmation. Some states have automatic reciprocity with other states for licensed professionals, but not all.

In almost all states, teaching licenses and credentials expire. Typical licensing periods are 2 to 4 years. License renewal requires updating information and paying a renewal fee, and in many states requires that the teacher complete a specified number of continuing education hours.

Teachers can also pursue supplemental credentials and certifications through other agencies to enhance professional development. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (www.nbpts.org) and other organizations like it offer supplemental credentials in specialty areas, including mathematics. These credentials show a strong commitment to the professional and subject material and can make a candidate more desirable.

5. Stay in-tune with Math Teacher Education

Because trends in education change as research discovers more about the learning process and studies help define what is most effective in classrooms, it is important that a teacher’s education continue long after graduating with a teaching degree. To ensure that teachers continue to advance their own knowledge and understanding of both education principles and their specialty area, most states require that teachers complete a continuing education requirement in order to renew their licenses.

States that require continuing education will set an annual requirement (often 6-12 hours) for continuing education, and will specify the types of classes that can meet the requirement. In most states, both courses that teach education principles and courses that further your expertise in mathematics can be applied toward the required contact hours. Check your state’s criteria for continuing education to ensure that you’re taking classes that will satisfy the continuing education requirement.

Professional organizations for teachers, and teachers of mathematics, are another way to stay current with education trends as well as your specialty area. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (www.nctm.org), the Mathematical Association of America (www.maa.org), and the National Education Council (ww.nea.org) are a few of the many organizations that allow teachers to connect on a professional level. Organizations like these offer networking opportunities, publications and sometimes sponsor courses that support math teachers pursuing a life-long career of excellence in their subject area.