4

I am close to entering the fifth year of a five-year Concurrent Education program. What the program involves is four years spent working on a bachelor’s degree, while “on the side” taking education courses and doing placements contributing to a bachelor of education and teaching certificate. The final year of the program is regular Teacher’s College, which is a combination of education/curriculum courses and, in total, about 14 weeks of placement.

I’ve thought about dropping the education part of the program a few times since it started, but stuck with it because it left teaching open as an option, while only requiring one education course and a 3-week placement each year (which is good experience anyway). About 2 years ago, I started considering going to grad school for math, but by the end of last summer, still wasn’t 100% sure, so I didn’t write the GREs. This year I took a graduate-level algebra course, and about halfway through, realized that grad school for math is definitely something I want to pursue.

As the deadlines for applying to grad schools had passed / were soon approaching, my plan then became to finish the program and get my teaching degree, and apply for math graduate programs this December/January for entrance in Fall 2017. Spending the next year in Teacher’s College, I’ve been thinking, might actually be a good thing, as a way to set me apart on applications for grad school and for jobs in the future, as well as a way to develop good teaching and other related skills. On top of that, it would leave teaching as a back-up just in case.

I would sincerely appreciate hearing the opinions of those who are in or who have been through graduate school in math. Do you think it will it be worth it, in terms of a future as a mathematician (ideally as a math professor), to finish the teaching program? I fear that the final year of this program will be painful for me, as it will require a lot of placements, which I already mostly dread. Alternatively, if I didn’t do Teacher’s College, I could spend the next year taking more graduate courses at my university, learn more math independently, focus on the GREs and honing my applications, and try to see if any professors at my university are willing to supervise me in some research experience before entering grad school for math.

In case it’s relevant, I come from a smallish university in Canada, which is probably not very well-known in the US, and I am graduating top of my class in math.

I’m sorry if this question is not general enough.

  • 1
    There are other users who can answer with more authority, but from what I gather from reading answers here, the year at teaching college will be completely useless for getting into a PhD program. You do want to stand out from other applicants, but you need to do so in a way that signals the potential for doing research, which means taking many graduate level courses and doing well in them. Even though graduate students also teach, being a great teacher will not help get into grad school. – Tobias Kildetoft Jun 3 '16 at 6:16
  • Similar question (Europe vs. here NA): academia.stackexchange.com/questions/69627/… – virmaior Jun 3 '16 at 7:47
  • 1
    There are good PhD graduates from leading institutions who are unable to get academic positions. Do you think you are good enough to become a university math professor? You talk about spending a year preparing for the math GRE ... seriously? I just looked at a sample paper. I could have done 1/3 of the questions at school and the rest after one year at university. The standard is low and it should be trivially easy for a future math professor. Sorry to be blunt. – TheMathemagician Jun 3 '16 at 15:17
  • @TheMathemagician No, I would spend probably two months part-time studying for the GRE, since I need to write those in October. And yes, I agree, the questions are straightforward and skill testing, but as one of my professors explained to me, it's not the difficulty of the test you need to study for, but the time crunch. – Esmath Jun 3 '16 at 16:20
  • 4
    @TheMathemagician Were you looking at the math section of the standard GRE or the math subject GRE? The former is pretty trivial, but the latter is much less so (especially due to the time limit on the exam). I know many very good mathematicians who got quite low scores. – Alex Kruckman Jun 3 '16 at 16:46
4

From the body of your question, the genuine question is about getting into a good-enough graduate program in mathematics, and whether the "education" program would be more helpful than taking higher-level math courses. Especially if the latter two are essentially mutually exclusive, taking more math courses (and interacting with math faculty as you suggest) is vastly more relevant to admissions criteria for grad math programs. "Education" work itself is not. If the education work displaces math work, that would hurt your application.

Nevertheless, experiences beyond the typical can distinguish applicants. When I am on our grad admissions committee, often the interest, commitment, drive, and maturity of slightly older people (as opposed to fresh baccalaureate degrees) is visible in their applications. Being able to think about grad school in comparison to other things (e.g., real-world jobs) can be clarifying, and this clarity can sometimes be seen in applications.

It is true that most funding of grad students in math in the U.S. (and, I think, Canada) is as Teaching Assistants, and it is certainly true that part of the job of math professor is teaching. But teaching experience is rarely decisive in post-doc or tenure-track hiring (post post grad school). A really awful teaching record can have a bad marginal effect, but still would not be likely to be the dominant effect, in comparison to "research". Further, "math education" or "eduction" coursework and/or training is not at all necessarily the same thing as experience in teaching. It's an academic subject, aimed mostly at k-12, licensure, etc.

To my perception, the significant point in your situation is the either/or. If pursuing the "education" stuff excludes some math, that would have an adverse effect on your applications to math grad school.

6

Spending the next year in Teacher’s College, I’ve been thinking, might actually be a good thing, as a way to set me apart on applications for grad school and for jobs in the future, as well as a way to develop good teaching and other related skills.

If you want to get into a research Ph.D. program in pure or applied math, this will do extremely little to set you apart. Taking more graduate courses and doing well on the GRE (especially the math subject GRE) would certainly do more than education or curriculum courses.

The most basic reason for this is that Ph.D. programs are essentially only worried about your ability to complete research in that discipline. Any life experience or preparation that isn't relevant to that is likely to be ignored. I suspect education courses are particularly likely to not be helpful, since (at the risk of way over-generalizing), many mathematicians have a pretty low opinion of the way classes in education are taught. I suspect, for example, actual experience teaching in a school would be more helpful.

0

On one hand, an education certificate will not directly help you in a PhD program in pure math, and will not help for jobs that are unrelated to pre-university education.

However, if you are interested in pre-university education, there is a path where the certification could be helpful. Many "regional" universities have a strong teacher education mission, and some faculty from their mathematics departments are often involved with educating pre-service teachers. This is a niche that many PhD mathematicians do not fit, because we have no experience with pre-university education, licensure, etc.

If you are interested in schools such as those, you could certainly use, or attempt to use, your background in pre-university ed as a selling point. You would need to do your legwork and also watch the job ads closely. Many universities have a habit of hiring a few faculty with EdD degrees for these positions, but you may be able to build a case that you have the background needed along with the stronger research credentials of a PhD.

Of course, this is just one path that a career could take. One of the challenges at the beginning of grad school is that you need to start thinking - well before you graduate - about what kind of school you would like to work at, and groom your vita to fit that kind of school.

-1

Nobody in the university system gives a crap about your teaching ability (with rare exceptions from small liberal arts colleges which pay nothing). They care about how much money you can pull in and prestige- that means how many papers and grant proposals you can write, how well they are received by the community. Teaching isn't even secondary's as a concern in most places- tertiary perhaps at best.

Do you want to teach university math because you love teaching math or because you think it will let you live a life of puffing a pipe with tenure and doodling on paper? Because if you think either thing, you're in the wrong business.

Being a university professor is hellacious work involving very long hours and non-stop skull sweat as you desperately try to push yet another article out or get yet another grant. It is thankless because people don't know the work involved, and it is increasingly rare as ever more positions are replaced with much cheaper Adjuncts.

Go into the job because you are passionate about devoting yourself to math and have both the desire and ability to stand on your own. Go into it because you're fine with cramped offices, bad air conditioning, stained carpets, and students whining/arguing to get better grades CONSTANTLY even though they don't deserve them.

So, yea, don't bother with the teacher college. Unless you want to teach primary or secondary schools, in which case you need the license.

I'm sure there are those who will disagree with me, so I would finally suggest that you talk to some of your math professors, especially the younger ones more recently hired, about what went into getting their job and keeping it. Even if they ended up in what you describe as a tiny school, they will still describe the system pretty similarly I would bet. But ask nonetheless.

Be wary of older professors- many of them may simply have no idea what the field is like, having had tenure for 50 years. I had one math professor who was offered a position when he was still an undergrad about to graduate and stayed since the 1970s. Great guy, great professor, lousy source of information for this sort of thing.

  • 2
    The concept that teaching is only a tertiary concern might be correct at a smallish number of research-oriented universities, but at least in the U.S. most universities are not of that sort and most of them do care more than a tiny amount about teaching. Even among research schools, there is significant variation (for example Berkeley and Michigan are ranked #1 and #2 as public universities and they care about undergraduate teaching to keep the top rankings). At the school where I work, a regional comprehensive, applicants must have solid teaching and research to be hired. – Oswald Veblen Jun 10 '16 at 11:59
  • I have attended and taught in many places in NYC where lip service is paid to teaching- new teachers give inflated grades to keep the students sweet and after that walk away ignoring the class more or less. So long as sufficient money is brought in, nobody cares. Take a look at pretty much any opening for a science position in a university large or small and you'll see the heavy emphasis on research and grant money – Broklynite Jun 10 '16 at 15:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.