Back in the early 90s I got a Secondary Education degree with double-majors in English and Mathematics. I went on to get an MFA in Poetry from a well-respected department. But I never got a book together as I found that I enjoyed teaching almost more than I enjoyed writing. But after a two-year instructor position wrapped up, I was unable to find a full time English position; since I feared trying to live on a part-time instructor salary, I had to look outside academia for something else and I've would up selling cars for the last seventeen years. But I was laid off very recently and now I think I want to get back into teaching. English positions are few and far between, but I notice all kinds of advertised Mathematics positions. Is it crazy to think about a PhD in Mathematics Education at age 46? I don't even know who I would have write letters of rec for me... Everyone who knew me as an undergrad or even as a grad student--well, that was 20+ years ago. So where do I start? Is this possible or pipe dream? Any thoughts would help...

  • 2
    I am not sure there is such a thing as a PhD in Mathematics Education. A PhD is usually a research degree, although higher education teaching, even at community colleges. Mathematics teaching positions, even at community colleges, are not particularly easy to get. High school teaching would probably require a MS in Math to start with and eventually an MA in Education.
    – StrongBad
    Apr 11, 2015 at 1:00
  • "I want to get back into teaching" Are you talking about teaching at a university or high school? If you just want to teach at high school, PhD won't be necessary.
    – Nobody
    Apr 11, 2015 at 9:56
  • 1
    Technically, it would be a PhD in Curriculum / Instruction with a specialization in Mathematics Education. Many such programs exist in Education departments all across the country. The degree has been designed to develop mathematics education researchers pursuing mathematics from the "how people learn math" side instead of the pure theoretical math side. These departments tend to attract elementary / secondary math teachers or recent college graduates with an interest in researching learning methods. A sound foundation in Mathematics is required, but not as critical as for a pure math degree.
    – Tony
    Apr 11, 2015 at 10:43
  • 1
    My goal would be a college classroom. Even at a community college, which usually requires a Masters (which I have) and 18 credits in the discipline (which I don't have) to get a position. If I wanted to go high school, I could get "emergency certified" and then get a full-time secondary position (perhaps easily since guys who can teach math are still in short supply). I'd be paid like a substitute teacher while I take the classes I'd need to get my teaching certificate up to snuff. That's an avenue, but not one I'm really excited about -- it seems a long way to get to the goal.
    – Tony
    Apr 11, 2015 at 10:49
  • How far did you get in math during your undergrad? Did you major in math, applied math, or math education?(or something else?) I can't speak for every school, but in the school I am at, the hardest math class required for an undergrad math major is leagues easier than the easiest math class required by the math education PhD requirements. Couple that with the fact that you haven't done math in years... It may be harder than you think to go back into it. Specifically, you need to be very solid on proof writing, and proof-based abstract mathematics.
    – SE318
    Apr 11, 2015 at 14:43

1 Answer 1


A PhD in mathematics education is a highly sought after qualification these days, although it isn't clear to me whether the long term prospects over the next 20+ years are particularly good for any academic career.

Getting a PhD late in life is certainly possible- two of my colleagues in a relatively small mathematics department got their PhD's in mathematics well into middle age after other careers.

Given that you got your bachelor's in math more than 20 years ago and haven't done anything in mathematics since then, you may have some difficulty doing mathematics at the level you were at when you completed the bachelor's degree and without current letters of recommendation you may have a very hard time gaining admission to a graduate program.

One approach that might help you to reestablish yourself in mathematics and get into mathematics education would be to start taking graduate level courses as a part time student.

  • 1
    I had thought of that. My unemployment & decision to change my life have occurred right at most graduate app due dates. I fear I'd even be scratchy on the GRE (though I did very well 20+ years ago). I could use mooks as refreshers, but there's nothing like the grind of retaking the class to bring it ALL back. I fear the demand for mathematics education will continue for 20+ years as (unfortunately) the U.S. refuses to truly commit to education in the sciences and continues to fall behind. We churn out liberal arts and business degrees by the thousands; math degrees, not so much.
    – Tony
    Apr 11, 2015 at 11:33

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .