After eight years of teaching math, there are still several things I wish I had known before I started. Today, I am sharing five tips for a new math teacher. Whether you are fresh out of college or shifting careers, this is for you.

## 1. Create a Safe Environment for Mistake Making

**You are responsible for creating a safe learning environment for students to make mistakes.** This is one of the most crucial responsibilities because it sets the foundation for relationship building and authentic learning.

Students learn by doing and sometimes that means doing something incorrectly.

When I would make a mistake, I would remind students that my brain was growing! Modeling this positive attitude will encourage students to feel less self-conscious about their mistake making. **Mistakes are to be celebrated!**

Also, you can totally normalize making mistakes by incorporating error analysis questions into your classroom, or the “my favorite no teaching strategy.” Both of these get students comfortable looking for an error and then allow for discussion and conversation.

## 2. Fight against Passive Learning

If you are teaching middle school (particularly math) then you should prepare yourself for this second point… **teach students to work through hard things**, also known as productive struggle.

This is still a battle I fight daily. The first thing I begin teaching my students to say is, “Mrs. Brack, will you clarify this part to me?” or even simply, “I need help.” ** “I don’t get it” suggests that you are passive in the understanding of a problem. **

You can respond with, “I don’t get it **yet.**” You can come up with a classroom slogan or motto for them to repeat back like, “I can do this” or ”I am capable” or “I am not afraid of hard things.”

Then, you need to shift those “I don’t understand” type responses to a specific question about the content. Or by asking, “What do you understand?”. We want them to make a connection to something they already know and then construct a plan based on that.

In addition, many students will decide they ‘do not get it’ before attempting the problem (or even reading the problem…grrr). In order for you to receive help from me in my classroom, students must follow these steps. (credit: Robert Allen and Amara Mattingly)

**Click here to get your own copy of my How to Get Help in Math Flowchart. **

## 3. Ask for help and be a good student

As a new math teacher, you don’t know what you don’t know. Even veteran teachers are lifelong learners of instructional math practices. Get comfortable asking for help from a trusted colleague, or even the brilliant teachers that are readily available in many Facebook groups.

When it comes to teaching math, many things have changed. If you are relying solely on how you learned it growing up, then you are likely missing out on some great strategies. The way that I taught students to divide fractions during my first year teaching is nowhere near how I would approach teaching dividing fractions today.

## 4. Number Sense is a Priority

I have come to terms that not all students will have their multiplication facts memorized by the time they get to my class. In the beginning, this defeated me. *How can they learn ____, when they don’t even know their multiplication facts? * I thought that fluency was the cornerstone of math, so it became my primary focus. It wasn’t until I taught 9th grade Algebra that I changed my mind. I watched as students with calculators repeatedly told me that equaled 2. They would show me their calculators where I would see 4/2=2. **I realized that number sense was an infinitely more important skill to focus on because in a few years my students would have access to calculators. **

## 5. Find a reliable curriculum

There is so much required your first year and so many plates to spin, I would highly recommend finding something that you can use as a foundation. Creating math materials is a full time job; you will have to tackle classroom management, grading, and intervention (and about a zillion other things too).

Maneuvering the Middle curricula is loved by teachers and students. It will make your first year about a gazillion times more enjoyable!

What have you unexpectedly learned teaching math? What misconceptions did you have as a new math teacher?

Editor’s Note: Maneuvering the Middle has been publishing blog posts for teachers for nearly 6 years. This post was originally published in June of 2017. It has been revamped for accuracy and relevancy and to include a Good Morning Teacher podcast episode.

Teri Dunlap says

I love the flowchart as a visual. I have tried this in the past and find that I still have several “lazy” students that don’t want to contribute to a group. Do you have suggestions?

Annette McKee says

I believe you’ve hit the top issues with clarity.

Shamra Mays says

I love the graphic! What a great way to illustrate what students need to do. I especially love the Courage title.

Heather says

Love your website!! I am switching over to middle school math this year and you have been a temendous help!!! Thank you

Noelle Pickering says

Thanks so much, Heather! I am so glad to hear that you have found it helpful. 🙂

Kristina says

Hello! Thank you for your articles! I just read the one on Homework agenda! 🙂

I am intrigued by your comment regarding fact fluency vs. number sense. How did you work on building number sense in the upper grades? Our school does a school wide reading incentive program and we have a team that is looking into how we can build a math centered school wide initiative. We originally were going to build it around fact fluency, so now I’m wondering if we should think about basing it somehow around number sense. Any advice and/or activities you have would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

Noelle Pickering says

Hi Kristina! I would suggest looking at Jo Boaler’s website. She talks a lot about it at the upper elementary level, possibly you could take some of the ideas and apply them to middle school.

Kristina says

Thank you! I appreciate your time!

Amanda says

Do you have an editable version of the flowchart that you are willing to share?

Noelle Pickering says

I don’t at this time, but it’s a great idea!

Katelyn says

I am a CPA turned 8th grade math teacher, and I’ve lived on your blog all summer as I approach my very first year. I’ve even read some more than once. You are so helpful and encouraging!! Thank you for all that you do 🙂

P.S. I’m trying to convince my husband that I “need” your bundle on TPT too! lol #butireallydo

Noelle Pickering says

I am so glad that you have found the blog helpful! I hope you have a great year!

Daniela Fougerat says

Excellent tips, Noelle! Thank you very much for sharing them with everyone. I loved your chart. It’s very clear.

Noelle Pickering says

Thanks so much! Glad you found it helpful!

Nadia says

I’m going in to my very first year of teaching (ever & math) at a YES Prep school! Just found your blog and am LOVING it.

Thank you!

Nadia

Noelle Pickering says

Hope you have a great first year!

mechele newell says

As I transition to teaching middle school, possibly math, this site is a breath of fresh air! Thank you!