A good friend, a brilliant maths teacher, was recently dissed on Twitter. And if there’s one thing I don’t stand for, it’s good friends and brilliant maths teachers being dissed on Twitter.
There was an implication — perhaps inadvertent; I know I’ve fired off short messages too quickly and implied something I didn’t mean or intend1 — that a maths teacher without a maths degree would necessarily be less able to teach and inspire than one with.
No. In some cases, perhaps. But overall: no.
You cannot infer from someone’s lack of a maths degree that they are a poor maths teacher — or, hopefully as obviously, vice-versa.
I, for example, would be a lousy classroom teacher. I have a very low tolerance for misbehaviour, an allergic reaction to paperwork, and as for staffroom politics, I’ve got enough sniping to do about REAL politics, thank you very much.
Having a strong maths background almost certainly helps as a maths teacher — for example, when someone asks ‘but whyyyy?’, you may have an easier time explaining why or linking to another concept. The flip side is — and I speak as someone who’s taught many topics I didn’t learn at school or university — it’s easy to forget what it’s like to struggle. Something that’s obvious to me isn’t necessarily obvious to a student, and I have to remember to slow down and try to pick apart possible problems.
At school, my best biology teacher was a physicist by training. Did he know his stuff? Sure, at least at the level we were learning it. Did that knowledge make him stand out as a teacher? Hell no. He stood out because he earned respect, taught memorably and cared about his students as humans.
You don’t get taught that at university2.