Open Thread: What Makes a Good Math Teacher?

Jose VilsonJose9 Comments



Here are a few good questions for everyone. At the behest of brran, I’ve decided to start an open thread about math teachers. As the title says, what makes a good math teacher?

As someone who considers himself a good math teacher, I often wonder what takes a teacher from good to great, or even from adequate to good. What are your criterion for good math teaching? I think this thread may be useful for those of us in math education, and those of us who love math (or even hate math).

Here are some questions to get your mind going:

  • What was your favorite math subject? (Anything from k-college is wanted)
  • Who was your favorite math teacher?
  • Why did you like them so much?
  • Was it about the academics or about the feelings you got from that person?
  • Is there a particular math concept that you enjoyed?
  • Did you love or hate math?
  • If you hated math for most of your life, why is that? What would have improved your experience?

OK, your turn. Throw out your craziest, sensationalist, or even mild ideas about these questions. The floor is yours. If you’re a math teacher / educator, think about your own teaching and whether you think you’re a good math teacher.

Jose, who wants you to use whatever method you please to answer this question.

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 9

  1. j,

    Great topic. Can’t wait to read some of the feedbacks you’ll receive.

    From my personal experience, I could tell you regardless of the subject, the teacher him/herself brings that subject to life. It’s like watching a movie in 3D. Personality and teaching methods play a great role. in addition, a Teacher who can learn his/her “children’s” “language” in order to better communicate will get through on a more profound level. I’ve always learned better from a Teacher/Professor who not only make me a better pupil but a better Man as well.

    Hey, this is coming from a guy who never liked Math. I found myself better with words than numbers, however as mentioned previously any subject can be enjoyable as long as the Teacher/Professor met at least one of the criterias highlighted above.


  2. * What was your favorite math subject? (Anything from k-college is wanted)
    Algebra. I thought I was the sh*t when I figured out I understood how to manipulate variables with numbers.
    * Who was your favorite math teacher?
    An old teacher here at Morgan State by the name of Dr. Farmer.
    * Why did you like them so much?
    He’s *(Dr. Farmer) gone now, but I believe he was the best math professor at MSU. He gave enough homework to last 30 years, but you left his classes knowing your stuff, and he always engaged his classes and broke down the subject to the simplest form possible.
    * Was it about the academics or about the feelings you got from that person?
    He didn’t take BS off of his students b/c he knew that we could go far if we put in work to the subject matter/
    * Is there a particular math concept that you enjoyed?
    Believe it or not, Fractions.
    * Did you love or hate math?
    Love/hate relationship. Love most of it, HATE Differential Equations.
    * If you hated math for most of your life, why is that? What would have improved your experience?
    Didn’t hate the math, hated the professors that didn’t teach it correctly.

  3. * What was your favorite math subject? No favorite, to be honest

    * Who was your favorite math teacher? Mr. Wesley Trutt (R.I.P.), of the Brentwood Public School District, Brentwood, NY. Had him for grades 10-12
    * Why did you like them so much? He didn’t take his position too seriously, yet he was energetic and passionate about his job; he didn’t talk down to his students and acted like he actually cared about us as individuals; he gave us practical, everyday applications for these seemingly abstract concepts he was teaching us, and often took time to discuss life in general with the class.
    * Was it about the academics or about the feelings you got from that person? He showed us that math was everywhere and it wasn’t boring or somber. He’d do things like perform card tricks for the class, then went back and showed us how it was all based on math, not magic. Stuff like that to keep us engaged.
    * Is there a particular math concept that you enjoyed? None more than any another. The high school/college level courses he taught were my favorites, but more because of the teacher than anything.
    * Did you love or hate math? Loved it when Trutt was teaching it; indifferent to hated with any other teacher I’ve had.
    * If you hated math for most of your life, why is that? What would have improved your experience? Trutt made it fun and relevant, sneaking in non-math related life lessons for us along the way.

  4. I’m a language/writing/right brain sort of person. I’ve hated math for most of my life (with a few exceptions) because I couldn’t truly comprehend it after 4th grade.

    My “skewed” SAT scores–perfect verbal, abysmal math scores–kept me out of Vassar. I actually completed my BA @ SUNY New Paltz without taking one real math course. (Just stats for a research course)

    When I later became a teacher (MS Ed.Migrant Special Ed Fellowship) I had to take extra courses to make up for it. Oh the pain! Ironically, I passed the NYST exams with math points to spare and bizarrely scored high on the Virginia PRAXIS math exam. (Years earlier, while forced to take the GRE to get into UW’s MFA in Creative Writing program, I had scored rock bottom in math and high in the other areas.) Go figure.

    Still, when I think of math, I think of test anxiety. Wouldn’t you know it– the only thing currently standing between me and a General Ed Elementary endorsement is a College Math CLEP. Ay!

    My favorite math teachers were those who did not belittle me, tried to make it fun, and understood my anxiety.

    Least favorite math teacher: Mr. DeGroot at RCK High who bellowed across the room @ : YOU are OUT to SEA!

  5. Math and I was always a love-hate relationship. I loved it until I reached high school-geometry to be exact. All of sudden math was no longer a language I was able to read, write, or speak-it was something completely unrecognizable. Never quite understood why I had to write proofs when these things were already written thousands and thousands of years ago. Nonetheless, Sister Barbara didn’t make it any easier and I would get my math papers all marked up in red. Trig wasn’t as bad because I liked algebra but I wasn’t fully vested. I had given in to the feeling of I hate math and I don’t understand it. Pre-calculus with sister Kieran was the final signature on my divorce papers from math. I HATED MATH AND HER!!! She knew I struggled and would call me to go to the board to berate me. My attitude became very indifferent and I copied the homework from my friends almost every day.

    After this experience it was downhill for me and mathematics. We spent many ears apart even in college. It wasn’t until I decided to face this “monster” after graduating from college, that i began to take a different appproach. Instead of beating myself up for not knowing, I began to celebrate what I did understand and ask questions about those things I didn’t understand-they were more specific.

    When I had to teach math, I panicked at first and felt the same anxieties I had as a student. But I took my experiences and used them to prepare my lessons and emulated Mr. Bain, my 8th grade math teacher in the classroom. He made math accessible by explaining the concept, providing different examples, and going over material we had covered. He would ask us to think aloud when we were called to do a problem on the board and use specific math terminology. I can still hear him say, “Oh man, what are you saying? Are you sure about this step? Come on now, I know you know this. Look at it again and tell me what you see?” In my math class, the words “cannot” and “I don’t know” where not part of our vocabulary. Instead, my kids were allowed to show their understanding orally, visually-drawing the problem, using multiple-steps as tools to help them navigate the problem, and/or using manipulatives during both independent and group work. By the end of that year, the students felt comfortable and helped each other out.

  6. My favorite math subject was multivariate calculus…until I took this class I had no idea how relevant my content was to the actual physical real world.

    Professor Albert Lu taught me the importance of teaching the concept rather than the content. Kids forget formulas and rules…but if they understand why a rule works…or why a concept is always or just sometimes true they don’t need to memorize.

    The good ones, in my opinion, connect it to reality as often as possible…and the reality that the math is being connected to is the students’ reality.

  7. Hiya,
    I’m a student from Georgia
    and I have to analyze how much time someone spend on internet.
    There are websites which are a guilty pleasure, but there are websites which only have a visits duration of 20 seconds.
    I would like to know how much time do you spend on internet (day/week/month).
    Thanks for your help!


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