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Many successful people credit their middle and secondary school teachers with helping them discover their talents and abilities while guiding them into college, careers, and other endeavors. Though the primary responsibility of math teachers is to instruct students in grades seven through 12 in a specific math subject, they may also inform students about colleges, occupations, and such varied subjects as the arts, health, and relationships. Teachers may teach a traditional math subject, such as geometry, algebra, or trigonometry, or in an applied math area, such as information technology, statistics, or probability.
Many secondary schools are expanding their course offerings to better serve the individual interests of their students. "School-to-work" programs, which are vocational education programs designed for high school students and recent graduates, involve lab work and demonstrations to prepare students for highly technical jobs. Though they will likely be assigned to one specific level in a subject area, secondary school teachers may be required to teach multiple levels. For example, a secondary school mathematics teacher may teach algebra to a class of ninth-graders one period and trigonometry to high school seniors the next.
In the classroom, math teachers rely on a variety of teaching methods. They spend a great deal of time lecturing, but they also facilitate student discussion and develop projects and activities to interest the students in the subject. They show videos, use computers and the Internet, and possibly even invite guest speakers. Aside from assigning the usual book problems, they may also assign presentations and other more creative projects to facilitate learning. Each individual area of math usually requires more than one teaching approach.
Outside the classroom, math teachers prepare lectures, lesson plans, and exams. They evaluate student work and calculate grades. In the process of planning their classes, math teachers read textbooks and workbooks to determine problem assignments; photocopy notes, articles, and other handouts; and develop grading policies. They also continue to study alternative and traditional teaching methods to hone their skills. Math teachers may prepare students for special events and conferences and submit student work to competitions. Many also serve as sponsors to student organizations in their field, such as a math club. Secondary school teachers also have the opportunity for extracurricular work as athletic coaches or drama coaches, and they may monitor students during lunch, break times, and study halls. They may also accompany student groups on field days and to competitions and events. In addition, math teachers attend faculty meetings, meet with parents, and may travel to state and national teacher conferences.
Mathematics teachers must keep their skills current and their teaching methods up to date. They may be required by state regulations to take continuing education courses and may have to pass periodic exams to prove their competency in the field. In a field as challenging as mathematics, teachers often explore their subject outside of the classroom as well, by conducting research or reading journals about the field.