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Number crunchers

The job of a mathematics teacher is challenging and exciting because one has to simplify the ‘tough’ subject for students. Vimal Chander Joshi gives details about the career.

education Updated: Jun 30, 2010 10:13 IST
Vimal Chander Joshi

Why do we study mathematics? It’s of no use. Once most of us grow up and get jobs as journalists, travel agents or airline stewardesses, will someone ask us to solve mathematical problems? This is what a young student’s perception is of the utility of mathematics in the real world.

But the fact is that mathematical sciences are a part of our practical life. Just for example, CD players would skip uncontrollably if it weren’t for error-correcting codes that are worked out using complex mathematical formulae.

Air travel is made possible thanks to the mathematics of airflow and control systems. Mathematics is also intrinsic to computer science. The list can go on.

A mathematics teacher thus plays a very important role. Anuradha Sharma, a TGT in a government school in east Delhi, got inspired by her own teacher, RK Sharma, as a student more than a decade ago.

“Until Class VIII, I didn’t like the subject. But in Class IX after Sharma sir became my teacher, I got interested in the numbers game. Later, I studied BSc (mathematics) at Daulat Ram College, followed by a Master’s degree from the University of Delhi,” says Sharma.

She finds her job quite challenging because “many students dislike maths and maths teachers, equally. Considering this, I always try and make friends with the students,” she adds. No student in Sharma’s class is reprimanded for not understanding a problem.

“A teacher should ensure each student is made to understand the problem. Explain it to him or her after class gets over, when he or she is likely to be calmer,” Sharma adds.

Many have taken up teaching jobs after studying applied mathematics in fields such as computer science, statistics, or operational research. Anup Gupta, director and mathematics teacher, Zion Tutorials, is a computer science graduate from the Netaji Subas Institute of Technology.

Emphasising the importance of this subject in industry, Gupta says, “During tests for recruitments, MNCs of high repute such as Google, Adobe and Microsoft test engineering graduates on their ability to solve mathematical problems.”

Gupta was so much in love with mathematics that he started coaching students in his final year of engineering.

The future of science and technology too depends on the development of mathematical sciences.

Tathagat Tulsi, who finished his doctoral research in quantum algorithms, says “If we develop our computational resources, many problems can be solved. To cite an example, there is a protein-folding problem in biology, which can unravel the mysteries behind Alzheimer and Parkinson’s diseases and find a cure for these ailments. This problem can be solved if computing techniques are developed further,” says Tulsi.

What’s it about?
A mathematics teacher is someone who teaches the subject of mathematics to students in school or college. The job of a mathematics teacher comes with huge challenges as school students are generally averse to studying this subject and consider it tough.

Clock Work
A typical day in the life of a mathematics teacher
7.30 am: Reach school
8.00 am: Attend assembly
8.30 am: Go to class
10 am: Period break (it changes on a daily basis)
10.40 am: Resume classes
12.20 pm: Lunch break
12:50: Check assignments submitted by the students

The Payoff
Initially one might earn around Rs 21,000 to Rs 22,000 per month as an assistant teacher (for junior classes). As a TGT (trained graduate teacher), one can earn somewhere around Rs 25,000. The salary increases to Rs 30,000 in the case of PGT (post-graduate teacher). Salaries are more or less the same in private school. A teacher with 8-10 years of experience can earn as much as Rs 40,000 per month.

Skills
.
You must have a good head for numbers
. You must have a good temperament to teach. You might be an expert in the subject but teaching requires a completely different set of skills and traits
. Patience to deal with average and below-average students.
. Continuous self renewal as one needs to unlearn and relearn as the board curriculum keeps changing

How do i get there?
. One must be a graduate in BSc (mathematics) coupled with a BEd (Bachelor of education) degree to become an elementary or trained graduate teacher (who
can teach Class IX and X).
. To become a post-graduate teacher (who is qualified to teach Class XI and XII), one must be a postgraduate (MSc/ MA -mathematics) in the subject.

Institutes & urls
. BSc and MSc( mathematics) from the University of Delhi
(www.du.ac.in)
. Five-year integrated MTech in mathematics and computing from IIT Delhi
(www.iitd.ac.in)
. BSc/ BA/ MA/ MSc in mathematics from Jamia Millia Islamia
(www.jmi.nic.in)
. Five-year integrated MSc and two-year MSc in mathematics in scientific computing from IIT Kanpur
(www.iitk.ac.in)
. Five-year integrated programme in Msc in mathematics and computing from IIT Kharagpur
* The list is indicative

Pros & Cons


.

The job is well-paying, especially after the considerable hikes given under the Sixth Pay Commission.


.

Working hours are less. You normally work until two in the afternoon.


.

Great sense of pride in telling others that you teach a difficult subject


.

You could face difficulty getting some students to get a good grasp on the subject

We teach pure maths

DU’s head of department for the subject discusses the continuing relevance of basic as well as applied mathematics

How did you get to be a math teacher?
I became a teacher by default. One of my cousins had done his graduation in mathematics. He motivated me to take this up as a subject for graduation. I enjoyed it, as my cousin had anticipated. Later, I went on to do my Master’s and PhD from the University of Delhi. I hadn’t known, while getting into college, that I would enjoy studying maths so much that I would make a career out of it.

How important is mathematics education for the growth and development of technology?
The study of mathematics is quite important both, at the basic level (taught at universities) and in its applied form (taught at engineering colleges). I believe basic science such as mathematical science can be thought as the bread you eat for breakfast, and technology as the butter you spread over it. You can’t depend solely on butter without having bread.

What job opportunities does mathematical science offer?
Wherever you go, whether it is economics or consultancy or computer science, mathematics is necessary for the execution of plans. In industry too, in order to compute inventory lapses, mathematical sciences play a very important role.

What’s better? Studying mathematics at an engineering college or at a university?
In an engineering college, the focus is more on its application while in universities (read Delhi University), we teach pure mathematics and its rigour comes from the theory of mathematics. Unless you know pure mathematics, you can’t excel in its applied side. Having said that, we are planning to revise the syllabus at the Master’s level. Two years from now, we will have computation-intensive mathematics at the Master’s level.

What’s the scenario like for teaching and research?
We are going to host an international meet in mathematics in India for the first time in August this year. Thousands of mathematics researchers converge in one country every four years. Spain was the host country last time and this time it will be held in Hyderabad between August 19-27.

Which is easier – teaching mathematics at the school level or at college level?
Considering the perks and the respect you get, people prefer to teach in a college rather than a school. But I have met many mathematics teachers in my career and I always ask them: ‘Do you feel repentant for choosing mathematics as a career?’ And barring a couple, each one of them say they are happy with maths as their teaching subject.

Dr BK Das As told to Vimal Chander Joshi