Will be giving a talk next month--need to know: How did your math courses/major prepare you for teaching? NB: Math specific, not Ed courses.And it got me thinking...
— Breedeen Murray (@btwnthenumbers) February 14, 2014
First, a bit of background. When I was in college, I ended up completing a Computer Science major along with a mathematics major. I entered college thinking I'd become a secondary teacher, but then never took a single education class since the combination of math and computer science courses filled up all my time! A couple years later, I found myself earning a masters (this time in education) and now I'm teaching (mathematics) at a four-year liberal arts college.
So, I can easily discuss how my math major prepared me - and how that major compared to the education classes I've since taken.
First, the majority of my math classes taught me how not to teach. Too much lecture. Too many book problems. Almost no interaction. On the other hand, my later education classes taught me that too much group work is just as bad if not worse. There's a fine line somewhere between those two extremes.
My math major did have one useful course though in terms of teaching down the road: Math Colloquium. It was in colloquium that each math major was required to pick a faculty adviser and a topic. Over the course of the semester, we had to prepare a 40 minute talk, and then near the end of the semester we actually had to give our talk to our fellow students and all our professors.
Colloquium was a stressful time, but once it was over I realized how much I learned about teaching. I had to make my first ever PowerPoint (for instruction purposes). I had to fit a lesson in a time frame. I had to realize what my audience did (and did not) know coming into the talk. I had to keep the professors attention while simultaneously not losing the students in the minutia of the mathematics of the topic. Finally, I also had to impress everyone because my grade hinged on doing well.
I think that colloquium was truly the only class that prepared me to teach at all because it was the only class where I had to stand in the front of the room and actually teach. I look at teaching a lot like I look at mathematics: you can watch someone else do it all you want - and it might even make sense - but it isn't until you actually try it that you'll know whether or not you understand it.
Looking at my own teaching from my students point of view, I hope they don't have a lot of the same complaints that I did when I was in their shoes. I try my best to incorporate more problem solving, less book work, and the occasional class activity. I attempt to refrain from lecturing for more than five or ten minutes at a time. I also try to relate the material at hand to true "real world" applications, not the "real world" you read about in textbooks (typically the final six or seven word problems in a chapter or section).
I also think this question deserves a lot more time and thought on my end - but I don't have a lot of time since I have my own teaching to prepare for the upcoming week! I did, however, think it was worth jotting a few things down in response...and perhaps spark some sort of dialogue with other teachers out there!