Teaching Maths, being a Maths Scholar is challenging and exciting

Tena West

As I sat and observed a Yr 9 middle set maths lesson; watched their teacher teach brilliantly whilst managing behaviour, I felt mostly optimistic. I worried a bit that it would prove challenging to teach with varying abilities (and disabilities) and needs (emotional & psychological). Optimistic that I would address boredom and cater for different needs by planning exciting and engaging lessons, use the school rules and expectations to manage behaviour and the classroom effectively. I would aim to provide EVERY child with the opportunity to reach their potential. Sounds simple? You're right it doesn't sound simple and it isn't! You have to be totally nuts like me to think this will be possible in my first year of teaching. This was one lesson I observed and the thoughts that ran through my mind.

Rather than think about the behavioural challenges, managed generally brilliantly,(years of experience) by the teachers I observed, I couldn't help but fantasise about the ways I could make maths lessons more fun, engaging and exciting in such a way that pupils would talk about it within and out of the school grounds.

Then, I observed another lesson where I genuinely thought and still think one couldn't get anywhere with that group unless you set aside time especially to connect with them somehow and show genuine interest in what they'd been up to at lunchtime, or over the weekend. Otherwise, they spent chunks of the lesson conversing about just those things amongst themselves anyway, despite warnings from the teacher. It felt like they'd rather visit the dentist than be in a maths lesson. They deliberately sought to be excluded from lessons due to he sheer amount of disruption. I spoke to a few and they genuinely believed they were rubbish at maths and it also felt as if they looked at you the teacher and wondered why you tried so hard to make them learn something they weren't interested in and believed they didn't have the brain for?

Have you read The Elephant in the Classroom by Jo Boaler? Chunks of the book talk about the problematic belief by man, that people are born with or without a brain for maths. I agree with her that this is pure nonsense. I felt these kids needed maths lessons with a difference. One that would challenge their thinking about maths and just how it affected their daily lives, the technology they use and talk about so much, and how it could determine their future success. Lessons that would act as hooks tailored with their interests or hobbies in mind and not abstract examples they did not care for or relate to, from textbooks. This was my thinking but at the same time, there is a maths scheme of work, grade descriptors and a new maths curriculum to follow or contend with and other behaviour issues to manage. Thus I could be failing these kids either way. Failing to prepare them for exams and failing to connect with them in the end despite my best efforts. What do I do?  Keep trying and collaborate with other teachers as I observed in the staff room.

I love the challenge of teaching maths to this new generation of children. If I play my cards right, I'll change one child's negative view of their ability to make good progress in maths to a positive one. I'll remain an optimist even when I keep being hit by the reality of it all.

- Imogene Tena West

If you want to make a difference then why not apply to become a Maths Scholar?