All teachers have to face a variety of challenges every day. But I’ve discovered that math teachers face a few unique issues.
Despite how important math is, math teachers often face the attitude that math simply isn’t that vital to success, and it's okay to be "bad at math." Parents will come to conferences and willing admit they've always been bad at math. This problem is especially true as technology advances.
Some of the biggest issues facing math teachers today are traditional reluctance and a society that lives on smartphones.
Varying Levels of Prerequisite Knowledge
Children learn in different ways, have different background based on both teachers and family, and have different experiences. This means I typically start the school year with a classroom full of students that do not share the same levels of prerequisite knowledge. In addition, students may have learned different approaches (or "short-cuts") to the same concept, like varying methods of adding fractions (the butterfly method - please don't teach it!). It’s important to complete some pretesting to assess what students know and learn about their methods for solving problems, in order to meet students' different needs.
Connecting Math to the Real World
I’m sure you’ve heard numerous students complain about how they don’t need to learn Algebra for the real world. I hear it quite often for all types of math skills. It’s one of the biggest issues facing math teachers. How do we connect math to a student’s life? It’s important to show students how math relates to their lives and the real world. For instance, talk about calculating a car’s gas mileage; creating a budget; leaving tips in restaurants and understanding how the tax is calculated; increasing or cutting back portions for a recipe; and analyzing how athletes train.
Math is everywhere, but proving that is hard sometimes. Adding in fun puzzles and games that students could do as a hobby can help change the view of math as something that seems “too difficult” to something fun.
Enforcing Learning Versus Computing
A growing issue math teachers face is quickly advancing technology. When students have a math genius in their pockets (aka smartphone), why should they have to learn math? Why learn how to do a problem on paper when their calculators do it for them? While I know students would rather just let their phones do the work for them, I like to put them into scenarios that show them why it's important to understand how/why those answers are coming out of the calculating device. For example, when they start working at a job, how will they know if their paycheck is correct? Do they WANT to be sure they are getting paid what they should be? If they know how many hours they worked, and what their pay rate is, they should be able to figure out their pay. They should be able to calculate whether the amounts deducted from that check are correct. Mistakes do happen - they need to understand that and be able to verify the information they're given. In addition, they need to understand that the phone or calculator doesn't tell them WHAT numbers to enter to find a solution - they need to have the number sense and math logic to figure out what numbers they need to enter.
Being a math teacher today isn’t always easy, and we need to work hard to overcome issues like these.