How to Become a Mathematics Teacher


Introduction

People who love mathematics and thrive in its formal study, have many opportunities in today’s job market to put their skills to good use. From engineering to finance, career prospects for people with a strong aptitude for mathematics are plentiful. Because of the varied employment options awaiting a math major, finding outstanding mathematics teachers can be a challenge for schools and higher learning institutions. As a result, a growing number of initiatives, programs, and incentives for prospective math teachers are making the job field a more attractive career path to pursue. Keep reading to learn more about how to become a mathematics teacher.

How can I become an elementary math teacher? 

Expected to introduce students to fundamental math concepts, and strengthen their overall understanding and skill level, not all elementary school teachers hold a degree in Mathematics. However, as part of their teacher training, most teachers at this level complete at least one mathematics education course, which provides educators with strategies for teaching mathematics to the very young. Overall, teachers at an elementary school are expected to teach Math in conjunction with other subjects, such as English Language Arts and Social Studies.

The average education program for aspiring educators with an interest in teaching math typically involves coursework in math, language arts, humanities, social sciences and/or natural sciences. Along the way, a student often completes coursework that touches upon an introduction to teaching; diversity in the classroom; number sense and theory; human growth and development; as well as mathematics for teachers.

To teach at a public elementary school, most states require teaching candidates to:

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree in elementary education (such as a Bachelor of Arts in Education (B.A.Ed.) program), or earn a bachelor’s degree in mathematics (followed by the completion of required education coursework). Students do not pursue a specific degree for elementary mathematics education. However, it is also not uncommon to see certain schools offer a bachelor’s degree in education with an emphasis in mathematics.
  • Undergo a semester or two of student teaching under the supervision of a seasoned elementary school teacher.
  • Earn a teaching certificate and become licensed to teach in state of residence by submitting proper transcripts and paperwork, paying applicable fees, and passing state-issued examinations, such as the PRAXIS I exam.
  • Take continuing education courses to stay in line with current teaching trends and maintain state licensure.

How can I become a middle school mathematics teacher? 

Middle school math teachers present students to introductory courses centered on geometry, algebra, ratios, probability, data analysis, and equations. Middle school is an important stop on the road towards high school. Students are more prone to falling behind in math, and it is essential that teachers are effective in identifying those who are not meeting grade level expectations, and adequately prepare their students to understand mathematics at the high school level.man writing formulas

Middle school mathematics teachers are typically expected to have completed a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, or at least, a certain number of postsecondary mathematics courses. During their studies, aspiring teachers develop a background in several pure and applied mathematics fields, such as algebra, calculus, geometry, probability, and statistics. Candidates also complete education courses in order to introduce mathematics concepts to students at the middle school level. Some math teachers pursue a subject specialization, such as geometry, trigonometry, statistics or calculus.

After completing a teacher education program and spending at least one semester observing K-12 math classes during a student-teaching “internship,” a prospective teacher may pursue certification by satisfying specific requirements to teach in their state.

Requirements for becoming licensed to teach middle school mathematics vary from state to state. In New York State, a middle school mathematics teacher must complete at least 30 semester hours of subject-specific content, while California teachers are expected to complete at least 32 semester hours of relevant course work.

How to become a mathematics teacher at the high school level?

While middle school mathematics teachers often focus on basic concepts, high school mathematics teachers, especially those working with students in accelerated and gifted programs, are expected to provide more advanced instruction. This may include teaching lessons in advanced algebra, trigonometry and calculus, which are typically only offered at the senior level.

Mathematics teachers are also responsible for preparing students to successfully take state exams, as well as prepare them for the SAT. For this reason, high school mathematics teachers must complete a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. They are also expected to have a demonstrated knowledge of pure and applied mathematics fields, such as algebra, calculus, geometry, probability, or statistics, and to have completed additional courses in mathematics education. Finally, high school mathematics teachers typically complete one or more mathematics education courses as part of their teacher training.

Aspiring high school math teachers must also undergo a semester or two in student teaching, where they are able to observe classroom dynamics, plan lessons, participate in staff activities, and teach a class. After satisfying all expected requirements, graduates must become licensed and certified to teach in the state of residence. This is accomplished by completing a state-mandated process that often includes passing applicable tests and state-issued examinations; submitting an application; completing a teacher education program; paying license fees; and passing a criminal background check.

How can I become a college mathematics professor?

Mathematics professors in the two-year college system typically offer applied mathematics courses to students enrolled in STEM or business programs, such as information technology or business administration. These courses often review basic concepts covered in high school mathematics courses. They may also teach mathematics in an applied context.

Mathematics professors in the two-year college system must have a Master of Science in Mathematics or a graduate degree in an applied field where mathematics is a focus. At four-year colleges, mathematics professors typically hold a PhD in mathematics, or a related applied field. Many two-year schools also prefer to hire applicants who have experience with distance learning or teaching for full-time positions.

What does it take to become a university mathematics professor? 

At the university level, mathematics professors may be called upon to teach a wide range of courses to mathematics majors, and to students enrolled in other types of programs. Sometimes, mathematics professors are recruited to teach “general education” classes in mathematics— usually required courses offered to students across the disciplines at the first-year level. Depending on their credentials, some mathematics professors are required to teach foundational courses in various applied science and technology fields, such as computer science and engineering. Notably, how to become a mathematics teacher at the postsecondary level does vary from how to become a mathematics teacher at the K-12 level.

A PhD in mathematics is required to teach math at a four-year college or university. In addition, candidates must have already made a significant contribution to the field, or hold the potential to do so. University-level mathematics professors may claim as their area of expertise, something as obscure as algebraic topology, hyperbolic geometry, automorphic forms, or game theory. Such specificities have the potential to either drastically limit or fortunately increase the number of job prospects that a PhD-prepared professor may encounter.

In addition to teaching, university-level mathematics professors, but usually only those who have already achieved tenure, are charged with supervising graduate students in the field. Like themselves, in order for their graduate students to receive a PhD, they are expected to solve a mathematics problem that has never been solved, and to write a dissertation that offers proof of the solution beyond any reasonable doubt.

Securing permanent employment at a university is difficult, and professors often face a competitive pool of qualified applicants who are vying for tenure-track positions.  The career path that university professors typically encounter involves climbing a ladder that starts with assistant professor positions to becoming an associate professor to achieving full-time math professor status. Those who become tenured have earned an ongoing contract with the school.

What is the compensation for math teachers? 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary that teachers (including mathematics teachers) were paid in 2014 (according to grade level) is as follows:

  • Elementary school math teachers – $54,120
  • Middle school math teachers – $54,940
  • High school math teachers – $56,310

A handful of factors ultimately affect the salaries paid to math teachers. Geographic location plays a role, as some states, such as New York, New Jersey, California, Alaska and Massachusetts, have been identified as paying the most to postsecondary teachers. Math teachers residing in the above-mentioned states made between $71,000 and $76,680 in 2014. 

The salary for college and university professors that teach mathematics varies according to the specific school where they teach (and type of school); the subject being taught; years of experience; teaching credentials; and tenure track versus non-tenure track positions.

The years of experience and rank of a professor also plays an important role in a math teacher’s salary. Full-time professors earn the highest salaries in contrast to associate and assistant professors. Some doctoral-level math departments pay staff $110,200 on average, whereas associate professors earned $77,625 and newly hired assistant professors took home $71,098.

A place of employment also determines the average salary for an educator. For instance, the annual mean wage for math professors employed at colleges, universities and professional schools was $78,720 in 2014, whereas junior colleges paid their math teachers a yearly average salary of $68,950. Technical and trade schools paid mathematics teachers a mean salary of $49,370 for that same year. 

What is the job outlook for math teachers? 

The job outlook for mathematics teachers and professors is quite promising, especially with the push to hire an increased number of educators within the STEM (science/technology/engineering/mathematics) sector. The United States has placed emphasis on increasing the number of educators and professionals within the above-mentioned fields, in an attempt to stay competitive on a global level. In regards to mathematics, the subject is a driving force behind establishing successful economic, accounting, and business practices as a country. Math plays a role in every facet of our everyday lives, whether we notice it or not.

In addition to increased opportunities to obtain an education, such as receiving scholarships and incentives to pursue a career as a teacher, women and minorities will find a wider range of job openings and benefits when they show an interest or passion in mathematics. Those who have been traditionally under-represented in the field of science will find increased opportunities to attend college, qualify for scholarships and financial aid, as well as pursue advanced degrees.

The number of job opportunities that await math teachers seeking employment outside of the college environment varies based on local need. Every year, the U.S. Department of Education highlights the states, school districts, grade levels, subjects and teaching specialties that demonstrate the greatest need to hire educators for open positions. For example, Arizona, Arkansas, Alabama (for grades 6-12), Kentucky (at the middle school and secondary levels), Minnesota, and New Jersey experienced a statewide shortage for math teachers in their middle schools during the 2015/2016 academic year.

Earning an advanced degree also improves job prospects for math teachers. Not only does an educator qualify for a greater number of job positions, but they can also earn a higher salary. For example, an elementary school teacher who pursues a Master of Arts in Elementary Education with a focus in mathematics may go on to qualify for a leadership role in their school.

Additionally, in the future, primary schools may hire “math specialist teachers,” where educators (preferably with a math-related degree) serve as full-time mathematics teachers or as math coaches for elementary, middle school and high school teachers. Therefore, teachers with the proper credentials may qualify for a greater number of job opportunities in the future.

In conclusion, the increased nationwide demand for STEM professionals makes educators who teach mathematics a valuable asset. With many incentives to pursue a degree within the field, and plenty of opportunities to teach others in public schools, private schools and on the collegiate level, a career as a math teacher is not only quite promising, but also fills a greater societal need to help make the United States competitive on the world stage.

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