School districts across the US will likely need to hire teachers for years to come to compensate for learning losses and teacher burnout during the pandemic. Though the teacher shortage affects every grade level and subject area, the need for STEM teachers is particularly acute, making now an excellent time to consider becoming a high school math teacher.
Math teachers do more than help students prepare to take standardized tests. Educators who focus on mathematics also teach critical thinking skills, scientific literacy, and logic while preparing tomorrow’s STEM professionals for successful careers.
Enrolling in a teacher residency program such as the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency is not the only way to become a high school math teacher, but it is a relatively fast and immersive pathway into teaching. And completing a residency isn’t the only step prospective high school math teachers have to take to enter the profession, even in an educational climate where demand for qualified teachers is outstripping supply.
Math as a high-needs subject
There was a math teacher shortage even before the pandemic, and today that shortage persists and may be worsening. According to data from the US Department of Education, 31 states reported mathematics teacher shortages in the 2022-23 school year. Some states, such as West Virginia, reported a more significant need. Frontline Education’s 2021 survey found that secondary math represented the third-leading shortage category, behind special education and substitute teacher staffing.
Teaching math takes unique knowledge and the ability to relay complex ideas in simple terms. Teaching this complex subject in high school – where mathematics branches into algebra, trigonometry, and calculus – is as rewarding as it is challenging. But if you have an aptitude for math and you’re inspired to share your knowledge as a teacher, you may be able to enter the classroom relatively quickly.
How to become a math teacher in high schools
Learn about the realities of teaching
There’s more to teaching than developing lesson plans, preparing students for standardized tests, and managing a classroom. Several other responsibilities fall on teachers’ shoulders. You should understand and be ready for the realities of teaching before you enter a classroom.
High school students may not have stable home lives. The effects of situations like drug abuse, divorce, housing instability, and economic insecurity trickle into the classroom and put enormous pressure on students. Good teachers recognize when their students are faltering emotionally, look tired day after day, or seem to be falling behind. Even students from stable homes deal with complex social challenges, financial issues, and uncertainty about the future. Teaching can be a balancing act between pushing students to succeed and exercising compassion when, for reasons beyond their control, they don’t.
The NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency focuses on cultural inclusivity and asset-based education and emphasizes “teachable moments.” During the height of the Covid pandemic, for example, the program “prioritized social-emotional support for… residents, their colleagues, and the students and families they served,” said Tamara Sewell, residency director for New York, NY, special education content mentor for the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency, and clinical assistant professor at NYU Steinhardt.
Determine your “why”
Teaching is not a career people choose for money or fame. Once you understand what it’s really like to be a teacher – i.e., there are as many challenges as there are rewards – you need to assess your “why.” Maybe a special middle school or high school instructor inspired you to pursue a teaching career. Perhaps you love math and want to share your passion with the next generation. Let your “why” be your guide and your motivation as you pursue the credentials necessary to become a high school math teacher.
Earn a bachelor’s degree
In every US state, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree to teach high school math in public schools and charter schools. Most private schools also require teachers to have bachelor’s degrees. Many math teachers have bachelor’s degrees in mathematics because math credits are often a prerequisite for secondary school-focused teacher training programs, but there are alternative routes to initial licensure if you were not a math major. For instance, you can take the required prerequisite courses in mathematics on your own.
Eligibility to join NYU’s Teacher Residency program is based on undergraduate and graduate course work. To enter the program with the intention of becoming a high school math teacher, you must hold a bachelor’s degree with 18 credits in math at minimum.
Complete a teacher residency
With a bachelor’s degree and the requisite math credits, you can enroll in a teacher residency program. Teacher residencies provide aspiring teachers with a pathway into the classroom built around robust hands-on training and graduate-level training. The NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency attracts many students who did not major in education as undergraduates because it helps them accrue hundreds of hours of classroom experience in a single year (more than many other student teaching pathways) and confers a master of arts in teaching.
As a resident, you’ll receive wraparound support so you don’t feel alone when you enter the classroom at the start of the program. The support team at NYU Steinhardt includes a teaching mentor, the residency school site partner staff, a residency director, and NYU Steinhardt faculty and mentors. At the end of your residency, you will have more than 1,400 hours of classroom experience if you enroll as a full-time resident or more than 600 if you choose the half-day residency program.
Obtain your state-level teaching certification
Charter school and public school educators must pass standardized tests in most states to qualify for teacher certification. The process for teacher licensure varies significantly by state, but most high school math teachers must pass one or more exams assessing their expertise in mathematic concepts. Explore our teacher certification resources to learn more. Once you complete your residency and pass the required exams, you can apply for a teaching certificate in many, but not all, states.
Fulfill any additional requirements in your state
Depending on where you want to work, you may need to earn additional credentials or fulfill additional requirements to teach math at the high school level. Some states may require more student teaching experience, while others may require further standardized exams for secondary school educators. The NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency prepares teachers to work in urban public and charter schools in several locations across the country. There are residency sites in NYC, Washington, DC, Upstate NY, and Central NY, but the simplest way to find the exact requirements for teaching in your state is to visit the Department of Education website.
Keep in mind that your teacher education won’t end when you complete a master’s degree program in teaching or earn a set number of student teaching hours. Becoming a high school math teacher means committing to lifelong learning, not just earning the right teaching credentials. Your teaching journey will involve staying current on education trends, pedagogy, classroom management techniques, and breakthroughs in math education even after you secure a teaching position.
The most crucial step is readying yourself to serve all learners
There are plenty of reasons to become a math teacher. It’s an opportunity to do work that truly matters, serve your community, and pass on your fondness for this challenging but fascinating subject. Few careers offer the satisfaction teachers experience almost daily or when they see their students walk across the graduation stage or succeed after leaving the classroom.
If you are a skilled mathematician, teaching also lets you exercise your skills and share your passion with a range of learners, including students with disabilities and emergent bilinguals. That’s what drove NYU Steinhardt alumni Ericka Willacy to look into how to become a high school math teacher.
“Math doesn’t just teach numbers. It teaches life skills like learning to persevere and to make an effort especially when things are tough. It also teaches you that making a mistake is okay,” said Willacy. “I could teach someone how to solve something, but to teach the concept behind the equation and relate the concepts to real-world situations was not what I knew how to do. The Teacher Residency showed me how to teach content in different ways to facilitate a learning experience for all learners.”
This is especially important in STEM fields, where people of color and women and girls tend to be underrepresented. If the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency sounds like the right program for you, contact an enrollment advisor to learn more about the application requirements or admissions process. You may already be more prepared to become a math teacher in high school than you realize. “All that is required is an open mind and a drive to make a difference in the lives of the upcoming generations,” said Willacy.