Teaching Careers and Professional Development Updated April 9, 2020

Math Teacher Career: Job, Education, and Salary Information

By Eric Gill

Mathematics teachers are conceptual thinkers with logical minds and strong memorization abilities. They have a knack for spotting patterns and identifying similarities and differences among groupings that aren’t always obvious to others. As professionals, they are devoted to accuracy, objective analyses, and dedicated to helping students learn. 

If you are “fluent in math” and have a passion for imparting knowledge and helping others appreciate the value of solving problems with numbers, you’re well suited for a career as a mathematics teacher.

At-a-glance: math teachers

Math teacher job description

Mathematics teachers must have a solid foundation in multiplication, division, fractions, algebra, geometry and measurement, data analysis, and probability. They are expected to implement lessons that build on their students’ existing knowledge of problem solving while inspiring them to make practical connections between abstract concepts and real-world applications.

Typical Duties: 

  • Organize and manage classrooms 
  • Work with colleagues and administrators to coordinate instructional best practices and teaching goals
  • Plan lessons, lectures, multimedia demonstrations, and other presentations appropriate to math
  • Assign classroom lessons and homework
  • Grade student assessments 
  • Stay current with state and local math standards and testing requirements
  • Work with students individually to assess progress, improve learning performance levels, and achieve overall education success
  • Prepare students for grade advancement through subject-specific assessments
  • Conduct open classroom sessions and schedule parent-teacher conferences
  • Attend professional advancement seminars, presentations, and professional development conferences

Math teachers also have a multitude of media at their disposal and are often delegated the responsibility of proper implementation of these resources within the curriculum. Real-time audio, videoconferencing, graphing calculators, and document cameras are a few examples.

Who makes a good math teacher?

Great math teachers are:

  • Fascinated by abstract ideas and concepts, naturally inclined to analyze data sets, compare statistics, and use mathematical equations as reasoning tools to find unambiguous answers
  • Well organized, yet flexible, about allowing students to ask questions and figure out answers
  • Personable and capable of motivating students to analyze data by placing numbers in context and encouraging them to inquire about procedures for how to solve problems
  • Patient and willing to explain problem-solving steps to students at all knowledge levels
  • Challenged by real-world problems and intrigued with scenarios that can be applied to mathematical solutions — everything from balancing budgets to surveying land to analyzing weather patterns
  • Capable of using numerical expressions and mathematical symbols to communicate rational concepts
  • Intellectually curious, committed to gathering facts and data to support accuracy

Math teachers in-depth

Math teachers at varying levels 

There are many constants within the mathematics teaching profession regardless of the grade level. However, some duties, expertise, and skill level depend upon the educational level of your institution. 

A number of factors come into play in deciding which education level to teach. These include:

  • Teacher’s educational level (postsecondary institutions typically require an advanced degree)
  • Range and breadth of mathematics subjects and abilities; the higher the grade level, the more advanced the curriculum and math conversant the teacher must be
  • Age and maturity levels of students — from middle school to college
  • Local salary considerations and employment opportunities

Elementary math teachers

Most teachers dedicated to the subject of math find their careers in secondary and postsecondary classrooms. Differing curriculum and licensing requirements require a broader educational focus in elementary grade levels. However, specializing in mathematics at the grade school level can result in outstanding educational opportunities. 

Today’s call for STEM- and STEAM-based curriculum has accelerated demand for teachers proficient in math and science subjects at grade school levels. The U.S. Department of Education, in Foundations for Success: The Final Report for National Mathematics Advisory Panel, recommends significantly increasing math curriculum for children in public elementary schools. Noting that improving K-12 math is in the national interest, one of the department’s key recommendations is to add “math specialist teachers” to primary schools. These specialists would serve either as full-time mathematics teachers or as math coaches for K-12 teachers.

Middle school math teachers

Middle school math teachers function as bridges for students transitioning between elementary and high school. They have one of the most important jobs in society because intermediate school is where many students fall permanently behind in math. It is crucial, therefore, for middle school mathematics teachers to identify students who are not at grade level and work diligently to prepare them for success in high school math.

Teachers at this level are responsible for teaching introductory courses in algebra, geometry, data analysis and probability, ratios and proportions, expressions, and equations. 

High school math teachers

High school mathematics teachers are responsible for more advanced courses than their middle school counterparts. Because they generally teach students at different grade levels, high school math teachers enjoy opportunities to expand their students’ knowledge. For example, teachers who specialize in trigonometry or calculus might teach these subjects to high school juniors and seniors, whereas teachers who specialize in intermediate algebra or geometry will probably handle freshman and sophomore math classes.

At the secondary level, math teachers are responsible for preparing students for careers in science, technology, and engineering, as well as other jobs that require a solid foundation in mathematics. State testing and graduation requirements are more often in the forefront of curriculum development and student assessment for high school teachers. Appropriate placement and advancement of students is important.

Postsecondary math teachers

Postsecondary math teachers are expected to possess advanced expertise in the courses they teach. Compared to their middle school and high school counterparts, college math teachers are given broader latitude in the curriculum they are able to cover. A postsecondary mathematics teacher, for example, may teach advanced statistical analysis for a course on calculating life and health insurance actuarial tables; or a college math instructor might spend an entire semester teaching business graduate students about inventory tracking using quantitative analysis and modern equation-modeling techniques.

Postsecondary teachers also have more flexibility over the format of their instructional methods than their K-12 counterparts. They also have greater control over their schedules, with many postsecondary instructors teaching part time. They have fewer classroom management and procedural responsibilities but are expected to devote significant time to preparing lectures and instructions for assignments, in addition to grading and providing individual guidance to students when necessary.

Postsecondary mathematics teachers teach at a range of professional schools, junior colleges, state and private colleges, and universities. Their students are comprised of traditional students as well as adults of all ages who are interested in math.

With today’s computer technology, the advent of relatively affordable telecommunications, and online college courses, postsecondary teachers have additional teaching options. Many online instructors work in adjunct teaching roles. To learn more about adjunct professors, see our adjunct professor article. 

Specific duties delegated to postsecondary teachers:

  • Conduct research to advance knowledge in their field
  • Publish original research and analysis in books and academic journals
  • Supervise graduate students who are working toward doctoral degrees

Education and certification requirements for math teachers

  • Education: Bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degree
  • Typical study time: 4-10 years

A bachelor’s degree — preferably in mathematics, math science, statistics, or a related discipline — is a minimum education requirement for beginning math teachers at the middle and high school levels. Most states require the completion of a master’s degree within five years of obtaining certification for continued employment. 

Postsecondary math teachers may find employment at community colleges and trade schools with a master’s degree and relevant experience. Most four-year colleges and universities require doctoral degrees for employment. 

Teachers come from various backgrounds of study. Most future teachers enroll in a teacher education program in college to learn classroom management and curriculum development, and a semester student teaching practicum. These students usually graduate with a bachelor’s degree in education and can begin teaching immediately.

Other teachers, after completing a more specialized program of studies and sometimes even after spending years as a professional in a related field, turn to a career in education. 

With a bachelor’s degree, education hopefuls find enrollment in education-based master’s and doctoral degree programs imperative to finding a career as a teacher.

Certification and licensing

A state-issued teaching certificate or license is generally required to teach. Specific certification and licensing requirements vary from state to state. Teachers are often required to complete years of teaching and take professional development courses as a condition of certification. 

Teaching license reciprocity by state: Visit our state-by-state teacher licensing and reciprocity page for regulations in your state.

A note on tenure: For teachers, a significant goal in the traditional academic career is to attain tenure. Tenure is often seen as a guarantee for a lifetime position. Unfortunately, though widely believed, that is not the case. Tenure mandates that due process will be followed before the dismissal of any teacher holding tenure. 

Teachers enter education on probationary status and can be terminated without just cause and/or proper documentation before tenure is granted. The process for tenure can take three to four years. During this time, teachers are evaluated by administrators, mentors, and often peers on job performance. This time allows administrators to make evaluative and supported decisions on the faculty teaching students in their schools. 

Salary range and employment projections for math teachers

Salary ranges for math teachers can vary depending on the state, school district, experience, and degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a math teacher is $60,320. The lowest 10% earn less than $39,740 and the highest 10% earn more than $97,500.

According to ZipRecruiter.com, average pay for math teachers by state varies from $35,439 to $50,012.

Here is a snapshot of average math teacher salaries:

  • Payscale.com: $49,450
  • Glassdoor.com: $48,465
  • Indeed.com: $46,343
  • ZipRecruiter.com: $45,696

The BLS states that the employment of teachers is projected to grow 4% from 2018 to 2028. Employment growth for public school teachers may depend on state and local government budgets. Many teachers will be needed to replace those who retire or leave the profession for other reasons.

Many schools report difficulty in filling teaching positions for certain subjects, including math. As a result, math teachers have better job prospects.

Advantages and disadvantages

Pros:

  • Share your passion
  • Inspire others
  • Expand student knowledge of math fundamentals
  • Work with young minds
  • Make a difference 
  • Every day is different
  • High degree of autonomy 
  • Collaborate with other educational professionals
  • Opportunities to continue learning and expanding knowledge base
  • Extended vacations
  • Job security

Cons: 

  • Relatively lower salary than other careers
  • Long hours during the school year
  • State and local standards
  • Little adult contact throughout the day
  • Standardized testing
  • School funding

Professional development for math teachers

Continuing education is a great way to keep a career on track, expand knowledge, remain competitive, and increase one’s real value in the job market.

Professional associations for mathematics instructors offer all kinds of webinars, correspondence courses, one-day seminars, symposiums, and other continuing education platforms to help teachers advance their knowledge of math subjects, improve teaching skills and broaden their scope of educational best practices. 

Professional associations for math teachers

Best of the Web

The internet is ideal for math teachers as a tool for research, lesson planning, and presentations. 

Math teacher blogs and sites

Twitter and Instagram accounts to follow

Favorite math TED Talks

  • Teaching Kids Real Math with Computers: In this 17-minute video, Conrad Wolfram discusses the issues related to mathematics education and suggests restructuring the curriculum.
  • Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education: Salman Khan, creator of Khan Academy, discusses the use of videos in the classroom to improve education for students everywhere in this 20-minute video.
  • Math Class Needs a Makeover: In this 12-minute video, high school math teacher and part-time blogger Dan Meyer suggests that within mathematics lessons, teachers should incorporate real-world issues that students would face outside the classroom.
  • Teach Statistics Before Calculus: In this short three-minute video, math professor Arthur Benjamin proposes teaching students a statistics-based curriculum that’s more applicable to real life.
  • Let’s Teach Kids to Code: In this 16-minute video, Mitch Resnick of MIT Media Lab discusses his perspective on how teaching students to code for web pages, mobile apps, and computer programs will benefit them in the future.
Learn More: Click to view related resources.

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