Careers in Mathematics Education

You’re a well-qualified graduate in a STEM field.  You could make lots of money in Silicon Valley or in finance, doing interesting things, but you want to be in education.  What can you do that makes good use of your talents and maybe even lets you feed your family?

Too many people don’t understand that there are good career opportunities available.  There are curriculum development roles; education technology companies; programs that cater to more motivated students; and all kinds of exciting smaller initiatives.

Teaching can also be a tremendously rewarding career that mixes many different kinds of very interesting challenges.  You engage with academic material on a fundamental level, but you also have some very deep engagement with ideas in pedagogy and psychology.  You also are in a very social career, so you get to interact with many interesting people and see the impact that your work has on them. The pay might not be great, especially initially, but there are prestigious fellowships that can supplement your pay and ease your transition.

This post exists to share what I’ve learned about exceptional opportunities in education that can be part of a serious career.  I hope that it will be a resource for those who would want to pursue work that we so desperately need.

You want to…

  • Change the mathematics classroom: Consider Reasoning Mind, a 140+ employee company that develops math software for elementary instruction.  Their work produces great results and is based on serious mathematics.  Math specialists can be “Knowledge Engineers”, and they are very rigorous about who they hire; many of them have PhD’s.
  • Work with talented students: A natural place to go is Art of Problem Solving, which creates outstanding curricula for elementary through advanced high school level and teaches it online.  They have a huge online community of dedicated students and lots of innovative online tools for them to do math.
  • Work with talented, underserved students: My own program, the Summer Program in Mathematical Problem Solving, is now hiring a Director of Programs to take over leadership and expansion of our work.  During the summer, we also hire instructors, and while you’re in college, you can be a residential counselor/TA.  Over the coming years, there may also be year-round curriculum development work.
  • Develop material about exciting mathematics: The National Museum of Mathematics is developing curricula surrounding their exhibits and also gives you the opportunity to teach to students who come in for field trips.
  • Work with math circles: Josh Zucker makes his living as an “itinerant math teacher”, running and teaching at math circles as well as online at Art of Problem Solving.  My friend Japheth Wood, on the other hand, makes his living as Executive Director of the New York Math Circle.
  • Teach: Do you want to understand the subtlety and rich intellectual life that goes into teaching really well?  Take a look at Sameer Shah’s blog, or Dan Meyer’s blog, to see how really smart people approach mathematics teaching seriously.  If you’re worried about the pay, consider either the Math for America Fellowship or the Knowles Science Teaching Fellowship.  Another way that many people try this out (tends to produce a love-it or hate-it result) is through Teach for America.
  • Do technology: I recently had a great conversation with Zach Wissner-Gross who founded School Yourself which makes lovely interactive tools to study mathematics and is a startup you might want to look at.  You could work at edX or Coursera or Khan Academy.  If you want the kitchen sink, here’s Quora’s list of education technology startups, but beware that there may be a mismatch between many startups and what works in practice.
  • Science enrichment: Unfortunately the sequester has put something of a hold on this for now, but NASA has always produced excellent science outreach materials.
  • Do Research: A number of my colleagues, including Yvonne Lai and Nina White, have made the transition from mathematics to research in mathematics education as well.  Math ed research is in serious need of qualified mathematicians right now!

Even more exciting, this is not a comprehensive list of opportunities.  There are many, many other organizations out there, and you can always start your own.  In fact, just as many underserved students don’t know the landscape of colleges, enrichment programs, or selective schools, many of us in the math world don’t know the landscape of education organizations that would love to have more qualified mathematicians working with them.

If you want to pursue education, you should go for it.  There are great careers awaiting you if you’re very good at what you do.

Author: danzaharopol

I am a math geek. I love doing math, learning math, and teaching math. Nothing excites me more than working with young people who are discovering new and amazing things. Professionally, I founded Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM), a program that makes it possible for low-income and underserved students to become scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and programmers. That's where I spend most of my time geeking out about math these days. Prior to BEAM, I was a math graduate student (studying algebraic topology) and taught math in places all around the country. I also co-founded and served as the founding CEO of Learning Unlimited, an organization that mentors college students to create enrichment programs for local middle and high school students. In my non-existent free time, I love board games, great plays, frisbee, and reading.

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