Attitude really is everything; nothing is more important than motivating and engaging students. It is not enough just to tell students the things they ought to learn. Teaching requires participation from the student, a kind of partnership that must be formed. The foremost concern is establishing trust and providing the security that allows open communication.
Next, a teacher must lead the students to ask the right questions, not just answer them. Math often generalizes problems that are motivated from questions from different fields of study, and this historical motivation can convince students that the concepts and techniques we teach are relevant, possibly even important and necessary. However, until the question is the students’ own, the answer cannot be relevant to them.
Sparking student interest is not an easy task, and the effort would be wasted without a clear answer, of course. It is important to take advantage of technology, to communicate effectively to students with different learning styles, and to give answers in a way that incorporates all the best methodology from current research.
Most teachers would blow off the hostile question, “Why do we need to learn this?” I wait for it not only because I have an answer but also because I think it is the most important question.