Should you need a maths degree to teach maths?

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.


Colin is a Weymouth maths tutor, author of several Maths For Dummies books and A-level maths guides. He started Flying Colours Maths in 2008. He lives with an espresso pot and nothing to prove.

  1. But it’s ok. I’m not running to be prime minister or anything. []
  2. You might learn it - but not in the lecture hall. []


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Where do you teach?

I teach in my home in Abbotsbury Road, Weymouth.

It's a 15-minute walk from Weymouth station, and it's on bus routes 3, 8 and X53. On-road parking is available nearby.

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