How (And Why) to Become a Math Coach
March 16, 2021
Wanna teach the teachers? Become a math coach.
Alright, here’s the scene: You sit at your dining room table and staring at a computer. “What the heck is a math coach?" You think to yourself as you click through 800 tabs on your computer, trying to find one to close. “And how on God’s green earth is this different from being a math teacher?"
Have no fear.
Instead, look to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which defines a math coach as “an individual who is well versed in mathematics content and pedagogy and who works directly with classroom teachers to improve student learning of mathematics."
Basically, that means math coaches work directly with teachers to help them advance their curriculums and teaching styles.
The Pros and Cons of Becoming a Match Coach
Being a math coach has a number of pros and cons, just like any other career choice—except maybe being a sommelier, because that sounds perfect. First off, instructional coaches in both public and private schools absolutely need to have a bachelor’s degree, and most likely a masters degree. If you don’t have the latter yet, you might want to consider how a program could multiply your career fulfillment.
- As a math coach, you'll spend time using your problem-solving skills, developing curriculums, and teaching adults and children, or potentially both.
- Every day, you'll be working towards big picture goals, constantly learning and growing, and helping with both teacher and student achievement.
- You'll have room for professional growth too, you'll have teaching experience under your belt, and most likely, a masters degree.
As for the cons:
- The increased responsibility you'll face may be overwhelming, at least at first.
- You’ll need to constantly set learning achievement priorities—and you won't just be model to students, but teachers, too.
A good math coach has the ability to maneuver around a number of personalities and hold strong relationships with the teachers they work with. If you love your work, you will be able to work through the challenges. That’s the bottom line.
Where Do Math Coaches Work? And How Do They Get Those Jobs?
If you have a degree in mathematics, but don’t want to become an actuary or something like that, good news: math coaches are needed wherever math is taught.
As a math coach, you could work at an elementary, middle or high school. But before that, you'll need work experience in math instruction:
- Those seeking a career in math coaching often spend more than three years, usually five, as a math teacher before transitioning into the role of coaching.
- As a candidate for any match coaching jobs, your experience will show that you can handle tough situations and work with differently abled students.
- It wouldn’t hurt if your teaching experience is in the level of math that you want to coach.
- A math coach is required to learn the material inside and out, and though it is not unheard of to learn new material (you are good at math, right?) that process could be time-consuming.
Educational Commitment of Becoming a Match Coach
Think of a math coach the way you would any other coach. Before a rowing instructor can sit in a boat and yell at the team through a megaphone, that person was probably once screamed at through a megaphone while paddling along a frozen river.
The educational commitment behind the path to becoming a math coach is pretty substantial, just like any other math career. Remember that teaching experience we mentioned? It requires not only work as a teacher but a good teacher. That means getting the proper degrees—which will vary depending on where you live and work.
Which degrees do you need? Some states only require teachers to have a bachelor's degree and relevant work experience, while others prefer a master’s degree. If you think it’s unfair that you need to get a master’s degree to become a math coach, consider how the physical education teachers feel. Yes, you need to go to school for four years before you can force kids to do pull-ups.
What skills do you need? A career in match coaching also calls for the ability to work with others and an aptitude for being an instructional leader. Ellen Agular, the writer, and educator behind The Art of Coaching Teachers blog became a math coach after seeing that new teachers weren’t getting the support they needed, and felt encouraged to transition into the role.
Q: Do Math Coaches Need to Think About Licensure and Accreditation?
A: Obviously. Aside from more traditional education, coaching certification programs are growing increasingly popular for teachers looking to make a career transition.
- Drexel University, for example, offers a one-year certificate program in Math Leadership and Coaching, which after completion, allows current teachers to apply to state-approved match coaching jobs.
- Penn State also offers an endorsement program which “is intended to improve a teacher’s mathematics content knowledge, instructional strategies, and leadership skills to support the professional growth of his or her colleagues and promote high-quality mathematics instruction leading to enhanced student learning." Educator preparation programs like this one could help make you more appealing as a math coach.
Why Further Accreditation Is Important for Math Coaches
Any good math coach will always be on the lookout to further enhance his skills as an instructional coach. But how?
Continued learning programs offer new and innovative ways to support teachers as they plan lessons, and create environments that foster teachers’ capacity to reflect on and strengthen their practices. The Mathematics Institute of Wisconsin is just one example of where programs to further education for math coaches can be found through a variety of credited online programs, in-person workshops, and seminars.
Resources for Match Coaches
There are many resources for math coaches who are interested in professional development and learning—blogs included.
- The Art of Coaching Teachers helps math coaches deal with varying situations, including the experience of coaching difficult teachers.
- The Math Coach’s Corner blog is another great tool, offering a number of workshops ideas and tips primarily for elementary school math coaches.
- As for websites, Inside mathematics is a great way for math coaches to stay up to date on mathematical practices and constantly be learning new curriculums.
- Other online resources include social media (ssssaaaaayyyy whaaaaat?) where you can connect with other educators and share tips, or just commiserate about that one annoying kid we all know.
- And don't forget learning conferences, where it is possible to actually meet people in real life, and do the same thing you’re doing online, but while holding a clipboard or something.
(P.S. Tutoring vs. Enrichment Classes: Which One is Better?)
What Can Math Coaches Do With Their Careers Long-Term?
It would be easy to think of becoming a math coach as the end of the career road. You figured out how to teach, and then you figured out how to teach the teachers—who says high school teachers can’t be as crabby as their students? For some, that might be enough. For others, becoming a math coach is just one stop.
One role that a math coach could consider advancing to is that of a school principal. With experience in developing and implementing curriculum, as well as working with others and managing groups, becoming a math coach could set you up perfectly to run a school. We've read some really cool stories about how teachers work their way up to the role of principal. As for how to get there, it's definitely going to require graduate school.
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