Seeing as this is the math educator site, perhaps someone can help me out:

I am looking to become a math teacher, but I am having a hard time figuring out which math courses I need to be taking. Any insight?

Right now I am at the undergraduate level. The courses I am looking at include: Calc 1,2, and 3, and Statistics. They also include Linear Algebra, Mathematical Modeling, College Geometry, and Discrete Math - but I'm not sure which of those make sense to take.

Like I said, I am trying to get to Secondary Mathematics Education. I can't ask an advisor because some of these courses are not offered by my college and I'll have to transfer them in. I am also not on campus and I find that the advisors are not as helpful over the phone.

To be a bit more specific: This is the link to the material on the competency test for New York. Because I have not taken the courses yet, I do not know which classes it reflects. If anyone has taken the test and understands which areas the test is testing, that would be very insightful.

Any insight is appreciated!

  • $\begingroup$ Take them all! Eventually at least. The more depth you have with the subject the better. $\endgroup$ Jan 19, 2020 at 7:42
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewSanfratello any insight as to what I should go with first? $\endgroup$
    – Burt
    Jan 19, 2020 at 7:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Burt Typically in the US system a Calc sequence happens early for an undergraduate looking to pursue math in some way. Given the direction education is moving, I think at least a Stats course or two is reasonable. I believe that Number Theory and Group Theory provide excellent insights into high school math and that even a cursory knowledge of those will help an Algebra teacher be better. Similarly, Real Analysis would make sense for after your completed your Calc sequence. If there are courses or professors that you're interested in at your school, that might drive your choices. $\endgroup$ Jan 19, 2020 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ Probably there are those at your university who can advise you on this. They will know about the content of the courses. Perhaps "College Geometry" is intended for prospective secondary teachers who will teach high-school geometry. From your list I would suggest Mathematical Modeling, with a prediction that it will be found in more high school curricula in the future. $\endgroup$ Jan 19, 2020 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ @AndrewSanfratello Why not post an answer? The comments you've written are an answer! :) $\endgroup$
    – Chris Cunningham
    Jan 20, 2020 at 3:40

4 Answers 4


Expanding upon my comments to the question, now that I have time to:

All of the courses you listed as looking at are ones that I think every high school math teacher should take and be exposed to. Calculus and Statistics are also courses that you may very well be expected to teach at the high school level, so these make the most sense of your list to take first. Elements of Linear Algebra, Mathematical Modeling, College Geometry, and Discrete Math may all appear in high school courses as well, though likely not in their entirety.

Down the line, I would encourage you to take courses in Number Theory and Group Theory, since I think they provide excellent insights into high school math content and that even a cursory knowledge of those will help an Algebra teacher understand the content more deeply. Similarly, Real Analysis would make sense after your completed your Calculus sequence. It is also typical in some high schools in New York State to have math teachers fill in for other STEM courses in the building when necessitated. You may want to take other math adjacent courses like Computer Science, Accounting, or another hard science you're interested in. In particular, if I were in your position, I'd look to take a few Computer Sciences classes, since I think we're going to start seeing more and more of these classes offered at the secondary level.

If you are firmly planning on becoming a secondary math teacher, then you might want to get a jump start on the masters degree that will be required if you plan on teaching in New York State. A pedagogy or psychology class, whether it was for secondary mathematics or not, would be valuable I would think.

Looking at the linked material for the competency test, it seems to me to be very much aligned to the Common Core State Standards -- the competencies listed on page three are almost exactly the same. Aside from the Calculus and Pedagogical Content Knowledge sections, I would be inclined to predict that you know most of the other content already from your high school education if you went to high school in New York State and took the three Regents and passed with decent scores. While I myself have not taken the Certification Exam in NYS, I know many people who have who have done so with little more classroom math exposure beyond high school math. The competency test, in general, is not something that I think you should be worried about if you are considering the classes you have listed; it is perhaps the easiest part of gaining your teaching certification in NYS.

If there are courses or professors that you're interested in at your school, that might drive your choices. If you take a course with a teacher you admire, then you may decide to take more courses with that person. Follow your interests and pursue your passions, but don't get so focused that you ignore opportunities to take other classes that might expand your thinking. I think it's great that you have the idea that you want to be a high school math teacher, but lots of people also change their minds while in college because of the classes they take and the people they encounter, and that's perfectly okay too.


If you want to teach high school math, then of course you'll need to know high school math. And if you want to get a teaching credential, you'll need to take whatever courses your state says are necessary. Beyond that, it's just a matter of getting a deeper understanding of the material, rather than just knowing enough go through the steps. Real Analysis helps you understand the theory behind Calculus, Algebra helps you with Algebra of course. For Geometry, this tends to be when schools start doing a lot of proofs, so you might want to take a Logic course. You could also take a course in non-Euclidean Geometry, such as Projective Geometry. Many high schools are including Statistics as an option, so you might want to take a course in that.

You should also take a look at what sort of pay scales school districts that you're planning on working for offer. Many give a higher salary to people with a Master's degree. Keep in mind that they also generally have a "professional development" requirement, in which you have to take a certain amount of classes each year, so if you find that you have a gap in your education, you can count it towards that requirement.

  • $\begingroup$ I support a college course in geometry, and in elementary logic! Thanks for that input! $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jan 25, 2020 at 20:43

You want to be a high school math teacher in the state of New York. I searched on "high school math teacher new york state requirements", and found this site. I'm a bit leery of this site, because I can't tell who is responsible for it. But the information seems reasonable.

You will want to talk to someone at a teacher preparation program. (This government site lists the requirements. And this site lists the schools that have the teacher preparation programs approved by the state.)

  • $\begingroup$ Great links, especially the first, which, like Wisconsin students who want to teach math, makes clear that a student need to earn an undergrad major in math. Some public colleges in WI have a "pathway" to a major in math, designed for those seeking secondary ed math certification. But the required number of math credits are equal across pure math/applied math/teaching math options. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jan 25, 2020 at 20:48

I got my NYS certification in Math 7-12 and Generalist Special Education 7-12 (with the grades 5-6 extension in both) about two and a half years ago.

The test you are describing is what Sue's website calls the Content Specialty Test in Mathematics. (I also know it by that name, and didn't realize that the name had changed.) Your basic coursework will leave you more than prepared for it. If you went to high school in New York, then the test is 80% a mixture of the multiple choice from the three mathematics Regents exams and the AP Calculus AB exam. The other 20% is pedagogical content knowledge. That is an essay question that will look something like "Sam solved the following problem in the following way. Identify what Sam did right and wrong, and design a strategy to address and correct his mistake." A sufficiently above-average student could pass the test easily before graduating high school.

The courses you've described sound great. It's a good survey of introductory modern mathematics, and will cover you for the next few paradigm shifts in mathematical education that you will endure over the course of your career.

You will also need to see to your non-math classes, though. The one class that you will absolutely need is Adolescent Psychology. Beyond that, make sure you have a broad sampling of the rest of the liberal arts core. I tried to short-cut my way to initial certification halfway through grad school and was denied because I had never taken a fine arts course, of all things. New York has a reputation of being the fussiest for teacher cert in the US, but it also has the highest median pay to cover for what they expect from us.


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