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What Makes a Good Math Teacher?

By Kayt Ludi
Math Book

Math can be hard. Students will complain about it. People long out of school will sometimes seem to have a shiver run up their spines thinking back to their last brush with it. So, how does a person teach it well?

Above all, math is cumulative. If you cannot remember the basics, it is very hard to move on to the complex. And according to About.com, if students eked out a C in their last class, they are really moving on to the next class having only “absorbed and understood about half of what they should.”

Rebecca Baranowski, the division chair for Math, Physics and Engineering at Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) said, “I do know, from experience, that students who got a C don't typically do well in the next math class.  For example, students who got Cs in MAT151/182 tend to not pass Calculus I. It is a high percentage (above 50 percent), based on my experience.”

How can math instructors help students absorb more? Baranowski said effective math teachers who have the ability to adapt to the students in their course, are continually assessing themselves to see what is working, and are continually assessing the students, though not just through formal exams. She added that they have a good working “knowledge of [the] material and how it is used,” as well as an “ability to explain concepts in a way that students can understand.”

In addition Baranowski listed a few characteristics as important: being strict yet fair, having good classroom management skills, and having fun and enjoy[ing] the teaching.

According to Valeria Flores, a Journalism major in her sophomore year at EMCC, “If the teacher teaches straight out of the book or uses the slides that are provided to them, then it becomes a little challenging.”

Baranowski explained that, “Some students need instructors to do a lot of hands-on activities to help them truly understand the why behind the math. Some students need to work with other students in class. Others need a lecturer type instructor and students who have a fear of math need a nurturing type of instructor who is also their personal coach.”

Baranowski continued to say that students should ask themselves, “Does the instructor teach to all the different learning styles? Is the instructor patient with students? Does the instructor push the students within reason? Does the instructor expect too much or too little of the students?” Baranowski points out that these things could have a huge impact on the success of a student in class. 

Flores described a good math teacher as, “Someone who actually takes the time out of his/her day to answer the student’s questions and who doesn't limit his/her time.” While she said a bad instructor gets frustrated over being asked questions.

So, what can you do if you have a math teacher you either love or hate? Baranowski listed some options. First of all there is always “word of mouth— tell other students.” Secondly, she suggested reporting it on the evaluations that faculty give out. Furthermore, “let the division chair know, especially if it is good. Most information given to the division chair is about bad experiences, so having good feedback is great.” And finally, Baranowski suggested reporting it on ratemyprofessor.com