By Sam Richard, SED’19
As an elementary school teacher, I will soon be expected to teach a variety of school subjects from language arts and history to math and science. While my major is Elementary Education, I have always enjoyed math, and I am pursuing a minor in Mathematics Education. Although a few of my Elementary Education classmates share my interest in math, most have said that they would never consider pursuing the subject themselves because they are “just not a math person,” or they “never really liked math.” In my personal experience, I have noticed that it is not uncommon to find elementary teachers who have a passion for history or a love for teaching reading, but a strong preference for mathematics or science seems to be much more rare among primary educators. I think that this lack of enthusiasm for STEM fields is unfortunate since the earlier years of a child’s education are an opportunity for teachers to instill a love of learning for all subjects in their students. An appreciation for academics is even more important in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, which tend to carry a stigma of difficulty that may discourage students from exploring these subjects in the future.
I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to study Mathematics Education alongside my coursework in Elementary Education since it has provided me with an opportunity to explore my own passion for math and to develop insight into how teachers can help their students to see value in mathematics. Part of math is learning how to solve problems that you have never encountered before by applying what you know and using logic and reasoning to find a solution. The world is full of challenging and complex problems and situations that students will not know how to solve, so providing them with opportunities to practice the skills and strategies they will need to tackle them will give them an invaluable chance to develop necessary life skills.
In my own experience working with elementary school students, I have recognized that many young kids tend to enjoy or appreciate math. At the same time, many adults consider math to be boring or static, and do not believe that it serves a very practical purpose in their lives. Somewhere between these two points, there must be some sort of disconnect, and I think that educators have the opportunity to change that. A passionate teacher has the chance to combat some of the negative thoughts and attitudes that many people associate with mathematics and inform young students’ opinions of the subject while they are still developing them. Elementary educators should seek to help their students to recognize the beauty, utility, and importance of mathematics.
It is often said that teachers create all other professions, so elementary educators should strive to demonstrate to their students that math can be useful, exciting, engaging, and fun in order to inspire the world’s next generation of logical thinkers and problem solvers.