During my years of teaching I’ve been wondering what to do to improve math education. My own teaching philosophy is simple, but throughout the years it has proven to be effective. While the groups I have taught have been diverse, there are certain consistencies in their responses, particularly, students appreciate a clear and sound explanation of a difficult concept, and experience the greatest growth when they have the chance to express themselves by asking any questions they might have and feel comfortable in class. My first objective in any class is to create a safe atmosphere for learning. That involves encouraging students to express themselves freely, but respectfully.
It is always extremely important to set the tone during the first classes, telling the students what is expected from them, and what can they expect from me as a teacher. Learning the students’ names is a very good start to creating a personalized experience. Some students feel very intimidated by being in a math class, and treating them individually helps to bring them into the group, as well as to convey a sense that they are not just bystanders, that I care about their individual progress and am there to help them with their specific needs.
Secondly, there is no substitute for good teaching. The key to success is to teach well. It’s very rewarding to receive positive feedback from students about the quality of your teaching. I think it’s very important to find a way of seeing math concepts that appeals to students. Being able to translate difficult concepts into something that they can digest is a must. Still, every class is a new challenge, and some old tricks of the trade might not work all the time. We as teachers have to be prepared to adapt to each class and use our creativity and intuition to help the students learn.
Third, I think it is fundamental to be dynamic and entertaining. Math can be dense sometimes, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring or tedious. Being dynamic means to be proactive and receptive. We need to be proactive by taking the initiative to show the students new perspectives they didn’t imagine before, and we need to be receptive in order to adjust our techniques to make them the most suitable for the specific needs of a group of students. It is a fact that every group of students is different, and each group needs different approaches. Flexibility is the key.
Fourth, I like to challenge students, with achievable tasks that can build their confidence as they stretch beyond their comfort level. I like to encourage them to do things they didn’t think they could do. I have noticed that the students find tremendous satisfaction when they achieve something that they didn’t think they could achieve. To see that is really rewarding. That’s one of the biggest payoffs of a teaching career, to see the students find unexpected talents in themselves.
Teaching mathematics requires great sensitivity and perceptiveness. There are people taking math classes who have no interest in the field at all, and take the class only because it is a requirement for their major. It’s also common to find people who are very frightened of how hard math can be. These are instances in which the teacher must convey to the student that even though math can be challenging, it is like any other subject, and is accomplishable through discipline, persistence, and hard work. These students’ preconception of math as difficult and abstruse is often their biggest stumbling block, and as a teacher I help them to break down these mental barriers by providing alternative ways of looking at problems until the information “clicks.”
Positive leadership is the key to making students feel that they can get a lot from the class they are taking. It is our role as teachers to let them know that math is an incredibly exciting field and that the possibilities are endless. But it is also our role to show them that achievement does not come for free and effort is a primary factor in the formula for success. I feel that we have the tools now, more than ever, to make teaching a very rewarding experience for both my students and ourselves.