What makes a good math teacher?

That’s a question I was asking myself from the first day I started teaching the subject. I’m not sure I ever really came up with a good answer.

And, evidently, neither did the folks on the National Mathematics Advisory Panel according to a new report.

But when it came to drawing conclusions about the necessary skills and preparation of educators responsible for delivering that content, the report’s authors said much less is known.

On the one hand, effective math teachers have an impact on student achievement, the panel found. It cited a study showing that differences in the quality of teaching accounted for 12 percent to 14 percent of variation in students’ math achievement in elementary grades.

But the 90-page report also says it is hard to determine what credentials and training have the strongest effect on preparing math teachers to teach, and teach well. Research has not provided “consistent or convincing” evidence, for instance, that students of certified math teachers benefit more than those whose teachers do not have that licensure, it found.

Similarly, a weak connection exists between teachers’ college math coursetaking and the achievement of their students at the elementary level, though there was a stronger link between that educational background and high school achievement, the panel found.

While the creators of NCLB and others put a great deal of emphasis on teachers having solid knowledge of their subject matter (and little else), the writers of this study see a greater need for “mathematical knowledge for teaching”.

In other words, to be a good math teacher a person needs to know how to **explain** the math to kids, not necessarily all the deep dark corners of the subject.

Which means this could be the key to training a good math teacher. Or one of any subject.

There is a growing recognition of the need to give aspiring math teachers, particularly those who will teach in the early grades, college coursework that is tailored more specifically to working with students, rather than simply piling on more advanced math…

Maybe the politicians who write the rules will begin to understand that good teaching is less about holding the knowledge than the ability to explain it to an 11 year old.