What is mathematics? – Mathematics is the study of numbers, numeric structure, geometry, and calculation. It is one of the oldest sciences and is the bedrock of modern fields such as engineering, physics, and accounting. Mathematics is taught at every level of schooling by trained and licensed instructors.
Math teachers provide students with foundational math skills they can apply to solve practical problems everyday. Those teaching higher-level math to more advanced high school students are quite literally preparing America’s future leaders in the fields of science, technology and engineering.
There are approximately 1.8 million elementary school teachers instructing children in mathematics nationwide, in addition to some 225,000 middle and high school level math teachers.
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Earning a Degree and Completing a Teacher Preparation Program
Math teachers are typically certified through college or university teacher preparation programs, then licensed through the licensing arm of their state’s board of education. Although the licensing process varies somewhat from one state to the next, the minimum education requirement is always a bachelor’s degree in mathematics along with a teacher preparation program that involves courses in pedagogy, mathematics competency testing, and a student teaching component.
Some states certify math teachers for all grade levels (K-12), while others certify math teachers for specific student populations (elementary, middle, secondary) or grade ranges (5-12 or 6-8, for example). In states where math teachers are certified to teach a particular student population or grade range, colleges and universities offer teacher preparation programs specific to those populations or grade ranges.
Teacher preparation programs are often completed as part of specially designed bachelor’s programs that combine mathematics and pedagogy. However, many teacher preparation programs are also available at the post-bachelor’s and master’s level for aspiring math teachers that have already completed undergraduate work in mathematics.
Certification through a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics Education
Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mathematics combined with a teacher preparation program is the typical starting point for a math teacher career.
Bachelor’s degrees specific to mathematics education include:
- Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Mathematics Education
- Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Education with a concentration in math
- Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Mathematics with a focus on middle or secondary grades
- Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Secondary Education with a concentration in math
- Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Elementary Education with a concentration in math
Certification through a Master’s Degree in Education
It is quite common for aspiring math teachers to hold an undergraduate degree in mathematics before going on to pursue a graduate degree in education so as to be eligible for initial teacher certification. Also, since many states require teachers to earn a master’s degree within a certain period of time after their initial certification, it is common for career math teachers that were certified with a bachelor’s degree to focus their graduate studies on pedagogy as they work towards tenure.
Master’s degrees in education include:
- Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT)
- Masters of Education (MEd)
- Master of Arts in Education (M.A.Ed.)
- Master of Science in Education (M.S. Ed.)
- Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning (MATL)
Math teacher preparation programs for initial certification are also commonly available as post-baccalaureate fifth-year programs. These programs may lead to a master’s degree as teachers pursue additional graduate work.
Selecting the Right Math Teacher Preparation Program
Teacher preparation programs are the combination of a college education, specific content and pedagogy examinations, and a student teaching experience. Teacher preparation programs typically result in a bachelor’s, post-bachelor’s certificate or master’s degree.
Aspiring math teachers that do not already possess an undergraduate degree are typically inclined to complete a bachelor’s degree combined with a teacher preparation program in mathematics since this will allow them to become certified and eligible for employment in the shortest period of time. In places where these four-year blended programs are not available, a fifth year teacher certification program in most common.
Aspiring math teachers that already have a bachelor’s degree in a mathematics-related field would pursue a teacher preparation program at the master’s level in order to complete the necessary pedagogy and student teaching components required for licensure.
Demonstrating Subject-Matter Competency in Mathematics
Depending on the requrements set by a state’s certifying body, aspiring math teachers may demonstrate subject-matter competency in mathematics simply by completing a math teacher preparation program. More often, however, they must demonstrate compentcy by passing mathematics content exams.
Many states require candidates for initial licensure to take national exams, such as the National Evaluation Series (NES) Mathematics examination, which assesses candidates’ knowledge of:
- Mathematical processes and number sense
- Patterns, Algebra, and Functions
- Measurement and geometry
- Trigonometry and calculus
- Statistics, probability, and discrete mathematics
Another widely used mathematics examination is the PRAXIS II Mathematics: Content Knowledge exam, which assesses candidates’ knowledge of:
- Number and operations
- Geometry and measurement
- Statistics and probability
Other states, such as California, for example, have their own content knowledge examinations that must be passed to achieve initial licensure.
Mathematics competence is generally demonstrated after completing a teacher preparation program. However, alternative certification programs often require demonstrating subject matter competence before enrolling in a post-bachelor’s teacher preparation program.