When I tell people that I want to be a math teacher, the first thing I hear is usually some intellectualized version of Yuck! Then as the person composes themself, they try to comfort me and my terrible decision by assuring me that since math only has one right answer, it will at least be easy to teach. If I'm in a good mood, I thank them for taking an interest in my future and move one. If not, I begin by laughing, then quickly move verbal abuse.

For some people, as for Barbie, math is hard. They don't understand it and they marvel at those who do. That I can understand and forgive. For others, math comes easily, and so they feel that the teaching of it must be easy as well. That is just plain insulting. While it is true that in math, there may only be one "right" answer, in math class the answer often takes second stage. Instead it is the process that is important. How did you arrive at your conclusion? Have you mastered the current skill and in which cases to apply it, or are you masking confusion by employing an earlier method instead? Math teachers must not only be able to produce the correct answer to every problem they assign, but to predict and explain the umpteen most common wrong answers.

There is nothing easy about it.

Unfortunately, it isn't just laypeople that underestimate the role of math teachers, it is the school systems and state education boards. They are the ones responsible for the low standards set for teacher experience in their designated subjects. Before you can teach math, you have to understand math. That doesn't mean simply manipulating algorithms to get the right answer and it doesn't mean being a step or two ahead of your students. You have to be light-years ahead. You have to have delved far enough into the wonder that is mathematics that you are adequately awed by its mystery, yet be approachable enough to share some of that mystery to share with your students. It's a fine line that only the best can walk.

It is often said by people who should know better that those who can do, and those who can't teach. I would hazard a guess that ours is the only culture where such an asinine statement could ever become a cliche. In other countries, the teachers are hand picked from the best of the best. They are the privileged few, the Top Gun fighter aces. We will never be able to compete on the same level we once did if we don't first learn to appreciate the inherent difficulty and skill of a good math teacher and second, have institutionalized standards and incentives to entice more of them into the field.

## Sunday, June 3, 2007

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## 2 comments:

Before you can teach math, you have to understand math. That doesn't mean simply manipulating algorithms to get the right answer and it doesn't mean being a step or two ahead of your students. You have to be light-years ahead. You have to have delved far enough into the wonder that is mathematics that you are adequately awed by its mystery, yet be approachable enough to share some of that mystery to share with your students.Tony, it's clear you get it. Don't lose that passion. We need teachers of mathematics who feel the way you do about mathematics. Share it with your students.... it's contagious and they will be so much the better for having you as their teacher.

You're right, teaching math is hard. But it is noble, it is valuable and it is crucial to the success of our children and as a result to the survival of our nation in global economy. Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

The final answer isn't always what's important. You've mentioned this already, but what's important is how one arrives at the final answer. Have you taught Barbie the basics? Maybe she needs to be taught in a way where she would easily understand the basics. Have you tried mixing Math with the things she loves?

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