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Maximise Your Chances of Getting Hired as a Maths Teacher With These Tips for Teaching Gifted Mathematicians

by Marsha Hudson

There are an estimated 300,000 students in Australian schools who are classed as gifted. If you haven't come across at least one already, you're likely to over the course of your career. 

If you're currently looking for your first maths teaching job or you'd like to leave your current school and get a fresh start as a new one, you may find that many schools with vacancies are looking for a maths teacher with the ability to teach gifted and talented students. If you don't have experience with gifted teaching but you'd like to apply for one of these jobs, you'll need to show the school that you're capable of learning how to do this (either through experience on the job, or through a professional development course).

Here are 2 tips for teaching maths to gifted students. If you can understand, internalise, and convey these skills to the school's hiring manager, you'll be well on your way to scoring the job.

Skill 1: Identifying Gifted Students

All gifted students are different, so identifying promising mathematicians isn't always easy. While a school looking for a mathematics teacher with the ability to teach gifted students will usually know who the current gifted students are, there may be others in the class slipping under the radar, and more will join the school each year. In your résumé or interview, you need to be able to convey that you know what gifted looks like in the maths classroom. 

Generally, you will be able to identify gifted students by observing them while they solve maths problems, looking through their past work for patterns, and talking with them, their parents, and potentially other teachers. A gifted young mathematician is one who naturally thinks logically and mathematically, grasps concepts quickly, uses intuitive or deductive reasoning to solve new problems, and consistently achieves highly in the subject. Remember that a student's ability shouldn't be discounted because of their background; boys, girls, students with special educational needs ('twice exceptional') and those from uneducated families can all be gifted mathematicians.

Skill 2: Challenging Gifted Students

When teaching gifted students in a mixed ability classroom, it's important that the content and tasks are differentiated for the promising mathematicians. You cannot give the same work and time frame to gifted students and expect them to succeed at an accelerated pace. 

The first thing you need to do to challenge gifted students is to pre-assess their abilities. Gifted students will usually be working ahead of the normal curriculum, and there's no point in teaching them something they already know.

Once you know what your gifted students need to learn, you have to know how you're going to teach them. It's a good idea to try the most 'difficult' method of figuring out a problem (the one you'd usually teach to older students with more maths experience) first. Gifted students usually possess the ability to use their prior understanding to work out how to solve problems they've never seen before. Starting with more basic methods can slow down their pace and detract from their existing skills.

Finally, it's a great idea to give gifted students the opportunity to engage in more fun challenges. Being challenged isn't always easy, and for some gifted mathematicians it can lead to quick 'burnout' and disinterest in the subject. Try finding local math competitions they can participate in or giving them some more hands-on mathematics projects. You can also allow high performing students free time in lessons to work on mathematical problems they're interested in personally.

It's not a good idea to regurgitate tips like this on a CV or in an interview, but they're a great starting point. Use these tips as a springboard to find more information of your own. If you can show the school in question that you understand the fundamentals of gifted mathematics teaching despite never having done it yourself, they'll be able to see that you're passionate and you'll be committed to developing into a gifted teacher yourself.