Tuesday 3 July 2012

Are You a Maths Teacher or a Mathematician?

Me and some colleagues were discussing this today: do you consider yourself a maths teacher or a mathematician?

If you reply by saying maths teacher, then the follow up question would be this: should non-mathematicians really be teaching maths?

To me, being a mathematician does not mean being really really good at maths. Have you ever heard of an artist being described as "someone who is really good at art"? Of course not. Instead, it's about passion. In my mind, a mathematician is someone who loves maths, and is limitlessly curious about all things mathematical. It's someone who doesn't just enjoy doing a maths puzzle, but who simply cannot stop doing a maths puzzle until it is fully explored, solved, and extended.

If you're not like that, then you probably see yourself as a maths teacher and not a mathematician (or as neither, I know I have a lot of non-maths teacher readers).  Is it important for maths teachers to be mathematicians? Remember I'm not talking about subject knowledge here, I'm talking about passion. Would you want someone who says "I can think of a thousand more things I'd rather spend my free time doing than doing a maths puzzle" to be teaching your children maths?

I'm uncharacteristically on the fence with this one. If you'd asked me a year ago I would have been adamant that only mathematicians should teach maths. But after having worked with a wide variety of teachers in this past year, a few of whom would fall into the other category, I'd have to say, if they can teach it well, who cares? Why be all snobbish and superior about it? Does it matter that they don't know a hundred and two amazing things about Pascal's triangle? If they can make students feel positive about maths, that's good enough.

However, I think my strong point as a teacher is my passion for maths (which my students would refer to as my geekiness). I do think this makes me a better teacher, because I think enthusiasm is catching, and it helps pupils to see maths as a much wider field than just "sums". Grrr, how I hate that word!

I've tried my very hardest not to offend anyone in this post, and as a result it's not that interesting to read. Maybe I should consider adopting a more provocative writing style and taking more extreme views such as: If you didn't get an A* in your maths GCSE then you shouldn't be a maths teacher! (To be fair a small part of me secretly believes this).

I'll hand the debate over to you: do you have to be a mathematician to be a good maths teacher? Comment below.

Emma x x x


  1. small part of me secretely believes that too Emma! :)
    I think you need to be a maths teacher and a mathematician.There has to be a good balance of both. When pupils see your passion for the subject that does make it more engaging for them. Planning is vitally important in teaching. If you are not passionate about your subject then how do you plan awesome lessons?
    Shaheda X

  2. Maybe I should consider adopting a more provocative writing style and taking more extreme views such as:

  3. hould non-mathematicians really be teaching maths?

  4. The idea behind this blog post Are You a Maths Teacher or a Mathematician is outstanding,

  5. I think that all subjects are not aboutmemorization, but for math, many people would assume that they have to memorize theequations and formulas in order to be able to solve all the problems. help me with math

  6. Mathematician is professional, He is scientist, researcher. Math teacher is that person who knows theory and teaching people this basic material.

  7. Though my classmates don`t like math I like it. Now I studing the last year at school and want to become Maths Teacher.