After completing four years in the math education program at GVSU, you'd think I would have an answer to this question. However, throughout my four years at this institution I have found that while there are many traits that are universally agreed on as "must haves" to be a teacher, everyone has a different idea and perspective when it comes to good mathematical teaching practices.
To get a feel for how non-education majors feel about this topic I decided to ask my family members, who range all the way in age from 20 years old to 77 years old. So here you have it, what it takes to be a good math teacher according to the Farquhars:
"To be a good math teacher you have to actually be good at math. Sometimes I felt like my teacher didn't know what he was talking about either, which didn't give me a real warm-fuzzy feeling when I was sitting there staring at the clock waiting to leave."
"Sarah if you want to be a good math teacher, you have to make it interesting. Math was not my thing because who wants to sit and look at numbers all day? If my teacher would have played games with us, I probably would have liked it more."
"Make sure you don't just give kids the answer. Make them work for it or they won't get any better! And don't always do the same old boring problems every day that make it easy to slack off and not pay attention in class."
"I didn't really like math because I didn't think I would ever use it again. And to be honest, I don't think I will ever use trigonometry again. Maybe if I would have learned how to use it in real life, not just how smart people would use it, then I would have been better at it."
"Well Sarah, I flunked basic algebra so I really couldn't tell you much about being a good math teacher. I hated math, I didn't care, I didn't think I would ever need basic math skills and I didn't know how important they were. I guess if you want to be a good math teacher you have to make your students care about it and want to be there, because I know I didn't."
When I reflect on these answers, and compare them to the knowledge I've gained throughout my teaching experiences, the books I've read for this course, and the testimonies from other educators, it all makes sense. I feel the key to being a good teacher of any subject is to teach in a way that makes your students want to learn. I had the privilege of taking a mathematics education course with Dave Coffey, a professor and educator at GVSU. In our class, he explained to us the importance of students holding themselves responsible for their engagement. He had us write down what it looks like when we are engaged in class, and what it looks like when we are not engaged. This was an excellent exercise for me to do because it allowed me to reflect on my own learning behaviors. As the semester continued, I was able to recognize when I was very engaged with the material, and when I was not. As I think of all the times I've sat in class, not engaged, and essentially not learning, I ask myself "what was wrong with that picture?". When these instances occur, you have to be able to realize if you (as a student) were having an off-day, or if it was the instructor who did not prepare engaging materials for his or her audience. This is a great thing to do with students of all ages (tweaked for different age groups of course) because it will encourage them to become responsible for their own learning. I also feel that a crucial part of trying to make your students care about the material presented to them is the need to cater to all learning styles. As hard as it can be, teachers need to make a solid effort to reach out to every type of student during the lesson or unit, to ensure that each student has a fair chance at learning the material.
In conclusion, it is clear that my family members did not have great experiences when it came to the mathematics education they received. The common denominator in each of their answers was that the teacher needed to find a new way of engaging his or her students in the joys of math. When you are teaching in way that makes your students want to learn, it is obvious that you also care about the subject, which creates an excellent learning environment for the students. This is something that teachers of any subject and grade level should keep in mind, because whether the students are in first grade or their first year of graduate school, they will not learn if the material is not relevant to their life and presented in a creative matter.I am glad that I had the opportunity to ask my family their opinion, because as I enter my student teaching semester it is important to realize that each student has had different learning experiences and this is the time to bring it all together and make it count.