Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You Had

By: Tracy Johnston Zager

Mathematics Professional Reading

Becoming the Teacher You Never Had - Book Cover

I just recently had the opportunity to read Tracy Johnston Zager’s new book, Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You Had and I’m so glad I did.

The Foreword begins with a reference to the author, Tracy Zager’s quote that “Good math teaching begins with us” and tells us that the book will take us on a journey through a number of different teacher stories about how they have grown as teachers and as math learners. There is a clear stance that mathematics is not black and white, nor based on speed, accuracy, or getting the answer correct, which builds nicely on the messaging Jo Boaler delivers in her book, Mathematical Mindsets.

The book also has a section dedicated to explicitly summarizing some of the many ways in which the book could be read, including:

  • From start to finish
  • In sections
  • As a collection of standalone mini-books that can be read in any order
  • On your own
  • In a book study group or professional learning community
  • With a colleague
  • As part of a larger professional development course
  • As a part of a math methods course

Similar to the explicit messaging about learning in math class: “there is no wrong way, as long as reading it is useful to you.” Although I read the book from start to finish, it was clear to me that I could have approached the book in any of the ways mentioned above, as the ideas are chunked nicely and do not depend on previous chapters.

The first chapter of the book, Breaking the Cycle, addresses the common beliefs and misconceptions many children and adults have developed based on their own negative experiences from math class. Zager goes on to help the reader better understand what mathematics really is. She includes transcripts of classroom discussions where her prompts help students describe what mathematicians actually do, then useful links to online resources are shared so that teachers can help expose the beauty in mathematics with their students.

Get ready for a rich learning experience as you read through subsequent chapters where Zager thoughtfully shares her thoughts and perspectives on risk taking; growth mindset; student voice; strategies and best practices; misguided approaches to precision; the Math-Twitter-Blog-o-Sphere (#MTBoS); low thresholds, high ceilings, and open middles; and many more great nuggets that you are sure to enjoy!

One of the most interesting pieces that I learned was where the Notice and Wonder approach commonly used in conjunction with a 3 act math task actually originated. My assumption was that it was born as a twin to 3 act math, but Zager cites a book by Max Ray-Riek from the Math Forum called Powerful Problem Solving: Activities for Sense Making with the Mathematical Proficiencies (2013, 42-55).

Who knew?

This is a definite on your “must read” math pedagogy book list, so pick it up and read it in any way you choose!

Buy your book here.
Connect with Tracy Johnston Zager through her website, on Twitter, or follow her book hashtag, #BecomingMath.


Download our Complete Guide to successfully implementing our Make Math Moments 3-Part Framework in your math class!
Make Math Moments 3-Part Framework Guidebook

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About Kyle Pearce

I’m Kyle Pearce and I am a former high school math teacher. I’m now the K-12 Mathematics Consultant with the Greater Essex County District School Board, where I uncover creative ways to spark curiosity and fuel sense making in mathematics. Read more.

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