Advice for Math Education Majors
Are you a self-proclaimed problem solver? Do people describe you as always up for a challenge? Are you curious about why things are true?
If the answer is yes to all three of these, a math education major might be the right fit for you! Former Grace College student Deb Rife has some advice to offer those who are interested in or currently pursuing a math education degree. After she graduated in December of 2019, she taught overseas in Kosovo. Now, she is a math teacher at Edgewood Middle School here in Warsaw, Indiana.
Extend grace to yourself.
Adjusting to college life on top of learning how to study for college-level courses is no easy task. Remind yourself of that, take deep breaths often, and view challenges or failures as opportunities to grow! As an aspiring mathematics teacher of 6th-12th grade students, you may be wondering why in the world you need to take a multitude of upper-level courses including Linear Algebra and Probability Theory. You might feel flat-out underqualified. So did I. As I struggled through those courses, I found myself questioning my decision to go into math education. I wondered what happened to me because I excelled at math in high school and loved doing math, but now the content of these courses didn’t come as easy and I wasn’t so sure.
I realized that a similar situation might be true for my future students. Perhaps they excelled at 7th-grade math the previous year, then when Pre Algebra hit, it didn’t come as easy, and they weren’t so sure. By digging my heels in and working hard to understand the material and view these challenges as opportunities to grow, I feel more equipped to relate with my students in ‘the struggle’ and encourage them to seize opportunities for growth.
If you absolutely bomb a test, your life is not over, you can recover and you will be a good mathematics teacher. Don’t let yourself slide into believing that you’re ‘not good at math’ because you’re now in the big leagues. That’s like an NBA player saying they’re not good at basketball because they sit on the bench a lot. That is clearly untrue.
Ask for help! The professors are more than just ‘willing to help you’, and it is not ‘just their job’, but they truly love helping you because, well, they love math more than you knew was possible, and they care about you! Don’t be afraid to grab a classmate who seems to understand a concept you’re struggling to learn and ask them if they could explain it to you in a different way. I can assure you that it will be very beneficial for both you and your classmates.
Your fellow classmates with a bachelor’s degree in math are your friends, not your competition! Chances are, if you’re struggling to understand a concept, you’re not the only one. Get together with your classmates and work through it together. I highly recommend study/hangouts. In my opinion, what’s better than a big ole’ math assignment than a big ole’ math assignment with friends!? The math lounge is a pretty fun place. I considered it my second home. :) And, as weird as it may seem, my math nerd friends and I have such deep bonds from getting slap happy from studying into the wee hours of the morning in our second home. And while math was the basis for our friendship at first, I have been blessed to share meals and engage in deep conversation, spend spring break, and continue relationships with my dear friends as we have scattered all over the world.
Hard work pays off.
Not only did I come away with a better understanding of and compassion for my students and the struggles they face, but also a plethora of practical instructional and management strategies that I have already begun implementing in my classroom as a mathematics teacher. I can look back at my three and a half years and remember the struggles I faced, but more importantly, I can recount the triumphs that met each of those struggles and be thankful for the opportunities I was given to grow. Though I questioned my decision to major in math education in my first year, I am so glad I continued on the path! Regardless of what twists and turns your path takes, I pray that you will be able to embrace opportunities for growth all along the way.
Does Deb’s advice get you excited about the prospect of a math education degree?