But WHY Are You Teaching Maths Ms?

I can hardly believe it: data collection is complete. It feels like only yesterday I was submitting (and resubmitting… and resubmitting…) my ethics application and now it’s all over! Eight interviews have been conducted and transcribed, numerous lessons have been observed, and a class of students have been surveyed and re-surveyed. In the coming weeks I will reflect a little more on the data collection process as I work through the long, iterative process of trying to make sense of my data.The focus of this post, however, is what I enjoy about teaching mathematics.

During my second interviews I asked each of the students what they enjoyed about learning mathematics. I was surprised at the responses I received. One student highlighted what she loved most about mathematics was that success is not due to talent but hard work, and that if you work hard you can do well. Another student enjoyed the way that different aspects of mathematics interact and ‘fit together’ to create an intertwined body of knowledge. A third student simply stated he liked mathematics because he understood it.

My last interview, however, was a little different. I conducted it with a softly spoken and introspective girl. Let’s call her Maggie. Maggie shared with me that she loved that in mathematics you have to learn how to do things, rather than learning ‘things’ as she did in other subjects. Maggie and I then proceeded into an interesting discussion on the nature of teaching concepts versus content.

Maggie voiced exactly why I love to teach mathematics. I’ve had a number of students ask me recently why I became a mathematics teacher. Some of them, knowing that I’m a runner, are confused as to why I don’t teach PE. Others, when they learn I’ve played piano since a young age, question why I don’t teach music. Others still, given that I can spell more than a few words and my vocabulary has progressed past a primary school level, think I should be teaching English. When classroom discussions tend towards the (in particular human) sciences students as why I don’t teach science.

It’s true. I could have probably taught most of those subjects. But they have never held the same magnetism as does maths teaching.

  • I love maths teaching because I am teaching concepts, not content. I enjoy the process of helping students understand how to attack problems and think creatively.
  • I enjoy that in mathematics there is a defined end target: ‘solve for x,’ but the manner in which you get there is up to you.
  • I love that in mathematics you don’t understand everything straight away, and that’s ok. I want to struggle. I want to push myself to understand. I particularly enjoyed this aspect of mathematics when I was studying Extension Two in year twelve: all of a sudden I had to really work in order to be successful. I couldn’t rest on my laurels or natural intelligence.
  • I love that teaching mathematics is about teaching persistence.
  • I like the ‘toolbox’ approach in mathematics: determining how to apply previously acquired knowledge and skills to novel situations.
  • I love the little tricks and cool maths facts. The unique elegance and beauty.
  • I love that mathematics is about communicating and problem solving: it’s about how I can coordinate my ideas and string them together in a compelling enough way to convince you that I’m right.
  • I LOVE the immense feeling of satisfaction of writing those three perfect letters Q.E.D. (quod erat demonstrandum) at the end of a proof: you know that you’re irrefutably right.
  • I love teaching mathematics for that moment when students’ eyes light up and they GET IT: truly this is the most satisfying part of my job.

There is just so much to love about maths. Sure, we might be the butt of many, many, (many) jokes, but I couldn’t imagine teaching any other subject.

Finally, a shoutout to all my maths teachers for contributing to the mathematics teacher I am today: Mrs DeMaria, Ms Daley, and Ms Flood.

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About madelinebevs

Mathematics teacher and researcher. Runner. I'm excited by mathematics education. Having taught high-school mathematics for several years I am currently studying a Master of Education (Honours) in mathematics education, with the aim to ‘upgrade’ to a PhD later this year. My research is addressing how the constructivist epistemology (more specifically explicit instruction in metacognitive and self-reflective strategies) influences students’ affective domain. Mathematics education and research excites me greatly. I’m thrilled that I have the opportunity to write and work in this area. This blog will be (mostly) a collection of opinion pieces published several times a week on contemporary issues in mathematics education, with an Australian focus. More often than not topics will be generated from recent news headlines.
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