Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Teacher Preparation Pathways for Math Teachers

Interested in teaching math at the high school or middle school level? There’s high demand! A person can generally become a math teacher with education at the bachelor's level. There are two components to a math teacher’s education: content courses and professional knowledge courses. Actual requirements are set at the state level.

When candidates are scarce, the focus has often been on content knowledge. Pedagogical requirements are highly variable. This is an area where some argue preparation often isn’t enough – it’s one one reason math teachers leave the profession. The safest bet is often a relatively traditional academic program that has state approval and national accreditation. One will find relatively traditional program at the bachelor’s or post-bachelor’s levels.

The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics are widely regarded as standard setters ( The NCTM sets subject specific standards for mathematics. The importance placed on CAEP accreditation varies by state.

Math Teaching Endorsements

Math teachers are typically certified at the secondary or middle/ secondary level. Grade ranges vary; 6-12 and 7-12 grade levels are both common, with some states issuing credentials for broader or narrower ones. Some teachers hold math certification only at the middle level; this is an option in some but not all states. There are also math specialists at the elementary level. The latter is typically an add-on credential.

Some states make further distinctions about what subjects a teacher can teach based on preparation and credentialing. A middle school math teacher might, for example, need to meet slightly higher requirements to teach Algebra I for high school credit. In rare cases, a distinction is made between higher and lower secondary math subjects.

Mathematics Educator Preparation Programs

In some places, a traditional program will include a double major: mathematics and education. Often this can be accomplished in four years. Students will have fewer general electives than if they were doing a traditional major and minor. They may need to decide on a major and complete their prerequisite requirements relatively early to complete requirements on a four-year time frame.

In some cases, the professional education component may be more on the order of a minor. Programs can include tight integration between subject area content and pedagogy. This is not always the case. Sometimes the strands are largely distinct.

The timeline will also vary depending on state mandates. Generally states are trying to simplify the process to cast a wider net. Virginia, for example, did not until recently allow undergraduate teaching majors; the expectation was that future teachers would return for a 5th year of schooling. This was changed through emergency regulation (

Typical courses in the major include calculus, discrete mathematics, number theory, computer science, and statistics.

The following are common secondary level professional education courses:

  • Educational psychology
  • Classroom management
  • Exceptional students
  • Meeting diverse needs
  • The educational system/ foundations of teaching
  • Student evaluation

Ideally, there will be multiple courses in methods teaching math.

A course in content area literacy may be required.

Students will have practicum experience in the early part of the program. The standard is for 12 weeks of student teaching.

A program designed only for middle school preparation may be significantly different. Middle school teachers are often be certified in another curriculum area as well as math.

Teacher Assessments

Teacher candidates take multiple assessments. Traditional students generally take academic tests at program admission. Requirements frequently include a subject-specific test such as the Praxis. The secondary math assessment includes questions in multiple math disciplines, including calculus and discrete mathematics. (The middle school Praxis assessment doesn’t require quite this level.)

Often there will be a pedagogy test as well; this sometimes comes at a significantly later stage. In some jurisdictions, the Praxis PPAT or Pearson edTPA are completed during student teaching or the early teaching years. These are both performance assessments. They attempt to capture actual teaching competence as well as other stages of the planning/ assessment cycle.

Alternative Paths

Many math majors make the decision to pursue teaching relatively late. There are many post-baccalaureate teacher preparation programs. Many do award master’s degrees. However, some award little academic credit.

Some math graduates are hired under emergency certification. Some pursue alternative certification while teaching. Alternative programs are a mixed set. Some are known for having strong STEM programs. Residencies differ from other alternative programs in that they give their candidates a lot of classroom experience before they become teacher of record.

Graduates and career professionals who enter through alternative pathways generally take their subject tests at the onset of the program.

Some alternative programs will allow people who majored in a subject other than math to pursue math credentialing if they can pass a rigorous test. This is subject to state regulation.

Individuals who initially receive an alternative certificate can typically receive a standard certificate from their state after several years of successful teaching performance.