Wendy McMahon - January 19, 2018

Large class sizes, a lack of educational assistants, not enough vetted resources…the list of challenges math teachers face is dizzying. Despite the roadblocks, many teachers still find joy in teaching math. Maybe it’s the moment a struggling student finally gets a concept, or you see your inquiry-based project engage even your most reluctant student. The surge of joy is so fulfilling, energizing and encouraging, you want to bottle it up for later. While bottling that feeling isn’t an option, finding encouragement from other math teachers is.

In a recent study, Pearson Canada asked a group of grade four math teachers to share the top things that give them joy when it comes to teaching math. For those days when you need some encouragement here are the highlights of what they shared.

Remember you’re making a difference in students’ lives

Struggling with math can create feelings of frustration and embarrassment for students--now and for the rest of their lives. But as a teacher you have the power to both support those students who struggle and encourage those who excel at math. Teachers reported that seeing how happy, confident and valued students feel when a teacher connects with them and encourages them--is extremely fulfilling.

And that joy can extend well beyond the single school year most teachers spend with a student. Veteran teachers report students carry the impact of a teacher’s efforts throughout their lives. Even years later teachers say former students are excited to see them, send letters of thanks or even praise them in Facebook posts.

Creating those “lightbulb moments” when a child gets it

Sometimes you have to be creative in finding ways to support and engage students--this is especially true in math classes. But that moment when you see a child’s frustration disappear is priceless. And the struggle of creating your own solution to student struggles in math can lead to personal growth as well as building your confidence. In other words it’s “lightbulb moments” all around.

Feeling part of a cooperative school culture

Sharing your knowledge and learning from others is paramount to feeling both connected and supported in your efforts to teach math concepts.

Math educators working in schools where there is a willingness to share ideas both within the school and between schools, expressed how this made them feel valued as both a giver and receiver of knowledge. Others explained how even sharing on social media, online discussion boards and e-mail forums helps them feel good about supporting others and being supported.

Succeeding in engaging a child in learning

The teachers we talked with feel proud when they create activities that bring concepts to life for students and engage them in math lessons.

One teacher, for example, developed a class store where students earn pretend money through an interactive reward system. Students practice math skills through buying, getting the right change etc. Students are so engaged in these lessons they can’t wait for math class.

By relating learning to students’ lives, teachers capture students’ imaginations and get them excited about learning--talk about a dose of joy!

Being supported by technology

Whether it’s SMART Boards, Chromebooks or even a TV, the educators we spoke with discovered joy in finding and using supportive technology. In some cases, technology support meant teachers could rest assured students were engaged in actual independent learning freeing the teacher to spend time with students who need more support. In other scenarios, it meant being able to access, share and even transmit resources that engaged an entire class in “fun” but effective lessons.

What brings you joy as a math teacher? Share your thoughts with other educators through @PearsonK12 #MyMathStory