Activity: Asking Teachers What Teaching Math is Like


There are many ways to teach math, and there are many teachers who teach math.  People are different from one another, right?  So this means that many different people teach math in many different ways. There might be better and worse ways to do it, but we are pretty sure that no one way is best.

Learning something about those differences from teachers you know is the point of this activity. We want to help you think about differences in approaches to teaching math, and also to think about where you fit in to what you hear and learn.

Many elementary teachers teach math because their job is to teach everything.  Some elementary schools, of course, have specialists who teach reading or math, but many do not.  In middle schools and high schools, specialization is typical.  But you will actually find some high school teachers who teach something else in addition to math:  science is typical, but we know or have heard of some math teachers who also teach English and even Art.


Ask three teachers who teach math to talk to you about their experience. You can have lunch together, or meet after school or before, or perhaps someplace in the community that’s convenient: whatever works. Anyone who teaches or has taught math will do…perhaps including another parapro who has worked in a math classroom!

The point is for you to ask a few questions and get the teachers talking.  People love to talk about their work! We find it’s pretty easy to get people talking.  Of course, since people are different, some like to talk more than others: but most people have a lot to say about their work. And teachers tend to be people who talk for a living.

Listen carefully, and don’t say anything about what you think about math or teaching. You can ask questions about what the teachers say in order to find out more. But they should do 98% of the talking, and you should do 2%.

Here are some questions to use:

  • What do you like best about teaching math? (Why? Tell me more. How does that work?)
  • What do you like least about teaching math?  (Why? Tell me more. How does that work?)
  • How much math, in your opinion, can everyone learn? (Why? Tell me more. How does that work?)
  • Why do people think math is a difficult thing to learn? (Why? Tell me more. How does that work?)
  • What approaches do you use for teaching math? (Tell me more. How does that work?)
  • What is math? (This is a tough question!)

As soon as your “interview” (that’s what this is—you are interviewing teachers) is finished, sit down and make some notes about the things that seem important to you. You’ll do that three times: once for each interview. Maybe you’ll have a page of notes for each interview.

When you’re done, review your notes for all three teachers. Based on the notes and your memory, think about how the teachers differ, especially in their views about students’ learning of math and good ways to teach math. Try to decide where your views about math learning and teaching fit with (or differ from) those of the teachers you interviewed. Perhaps talk with a friend or colleague about what you discovered.

If you are working on this material in a class or workshop rather than individually, your instructor can adapt this activity for small-group work.


  1. Use the questions to interview three people who teach math in schools (or colleges).
  2. Make notes.
  3. Review your notes to help you decide how the teachers are different.
  4. Think about your perspective in light of the perspectives shared by the three teachers.
  5. Talk to someone (a friend, colleague, or small group in a class or workshop) about what you learned.