Exploring this Job
By attending your own middle school or high school math classes, you have already gained a good sense of the daily work of a math teacher. But the requirements of a teacher extend far beyond the classroom, so ask to spend some time with one of your teachers after school. Ask about their job, how they prepared for their career, and look at lecture notes and record-keeping procedures.
To get some direct teaching experience, volunteer for a peer tutoring program. Other teaching opportunities outside your school may exist in your community; look into coaching an athletic team at the YMCA, counseling at a summer camp, teaching a math course at a community center, or assisting with a community theater production. Regardless of what subject you teach, gaining this outside experience will give you a taste of what it feels like to instruct others.
Professional associations can also be great resources for aspiring teachers. The American Mathematical Society's Web site, https://www.ams.org, offers information on math careers, competitions, and publications. You may also find it helpful to read publications about this field such as S.O.S. Mathematics (http://www.sosmath.com) and by working on "problems of the week" on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Web site (https://www.nctm.org/pows).
Many successful people credit their middle and secondary school teachers with helping them discover their talents and abilities while guiding them into college, careers, and other endeavors. Though the primary responsibility of math teachers is to instruct students in grades seven through 12 in a specific math subject, they may also inform students about colleges, occupations, and such varied subjects as the arts, health, and relationships. Teachers may teach a traditional math subject, such as geometry, algebra, or trigonometry, or in an applied math area, such as information technology, statistics, or probability.
Many secondary schools are expanding their course offerings to better serve the individual interests of their students. "School-to-work" programs, which are vocational education programs designed for high school students and recent graduates, involve lab work and demonstrations to prepare students for highly technical jobs. Though they will likely be assigned to one specific level in a subject area, secondary school teachers may be required to teach multiple levels. For example, a secondary school mathematics teacher may teach algebra to a class of ninth-graders one period and trigonometry to high school seniors the next.
In the classroom, math teachers rely on a variety of teaching methods. They spend a great deal of time lecturing, but they also facilitate student discussion and develop projects and activities to interest the students in the subject. They show videos, use computers and the Internet, and some create Web sites and use online discussion boards to further discuss topics that were presented in class. They may also invite guest speakers. Aside from assigning the usual book problems, they may also assign presentations and other more creative projects to facilitate learning. Each individual area of math usually requires more than one teaching approach.
Outside the classroom, math teachers prepare lectures, lesson plans, and exams. They evaluate student work and calculate grades. In the process of planning their classes, math teachers read textbooks and workbooks to determine problem assignments; photocopy notes, articles, and other handouts; and develop grading policies. They also continue to study alternative and traditional teaching methods to hone their skills. Math teachers may prepare students for special events and conferences and submit student work to competitions. Many also serve as sponsors to student organizations in their field, such as a math club. Secondary school teachers also have the opportunity for extracurricular work as athletic coaches or drama coaches, and they may monitor students during lunch, break times, and study halls. They may also accompany student groups on field days and to competitions and events. In addition, math teachers attend faculty meetings, meet with parents, and may travel to state and national teacher conferences. They keep in contact with students and parents about class assignments and upcoming school and class events through e-mail and text-messaging applications
Mathematics teachers must keep their skills current and their teaching methods up to date. They may be required by state regulations to take continuing education courses and may have to pass periodic exams to prove their competency in the field. In a field as challenging as mathematics, teachers often explore their subject outside of the classroom as well, by conducting research or reading journals about the field.