What do You Think Makes an Effective Maths Teacher?


I think that flexibility is one of the most important traits that a maths teacher can have. I have observed many maths teachers, and they all present themselves differently to different classes and in different situations. This applies in many aspects of teaching, such as behaviour management, and adapting lessons as you go to suit the ability of the students. I have heard being able to switch between a stern, short manner, and a friendly, helpful one, be referred to as "part of the trade".

Passion and enthusiasm are massively important when it comes to teaching maths. Many students are unenthused by mathematics and disengaged in lessons, so instigating curiosity and interest, as well as answering the age old question "when will I use this in real life?" can make a big impact on learning. Sue Johnston-Wilder, Associate Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Warwick, suggests that motivation is missing from a lot of maths teaching, and opportunities to introduce real life applications of the maths you are teaching are often wasted.

Students must find their maths teacher approachable. A silent classroom is not necessarily an effective learning environment, but a noisy classroom is not necessarily ineffective either. Being able to have discussions and help each other in a supportive environment can be beneficial to students. In mathematics we learn through making mistakes, so this must be encouraged.

Teaching for conceptual understanding in mathematics is extremely valuable. Procedural fluency is of course important, but extending this knowledge further and applying it to situational problems is made miles easier when students understand the basics of why they are using a certain method. My secondary school maths teacher really inspired me. He was the sort of teacher who encouraged alternative thinking, looking at things differently. Being able to come at problems from different angles improves reasoning skills, which are crucial for the new GCSE and A level qualifications, as well as being transferable for many other subjects, and making sense of life in general.

An effective maths teacher is many things; a reflective, flexible, approachable person, with a passion and enthusiasm for mathematics and it's applications at the core of their teaching; and while this is far from an exhaustive summary, I hope that it gives some food for thought.

By Jessica Donnelly