What inspired you to want to become a maths teacher?

I've always loved maths. I don't fully remember my journey through school any more, but two things I do remember are wanting to have some sort of music career and not thinking twice about choosing A-Level maths.

When it came to choosing a degree, that was obvious too: I would do maths - although for various reasons I never took up the university place offered to me. Instead, six years ago (15 years after not going to university the first-time round), I decided to do a maths degree with Open University. That love for maths and comfort in maths has never left me: When I felt I needed to develop myself somehow, a maths degree was my immediate thought.

All that said, the last thing I ever wanted to be was a secondary school teacher. My wife had been a secondary English teacher for over a decade and it was not something I saw myself doing! This time last year, if you had asked me, I would have said that it was a fall back. Something I could do if I couldn't work out what else to do with a degree in maths.

Then two things happened, one gradual and one sudden. Over the 5 years of doing a maths degree I was generally hesitant to tell people. So often, I'd get a variation on one of two responses: "You must be so smart" or "I can't do maths”. The frustration of the cultural malaise around maths started to get under my skin. People who are demonstrably not bad at maths still have a terrifyingly cavalier attitude to the way they dismiss their own abilities and skills without thinking about the consequences of this negativity.

I began to see this as a challenge. Maybe I could help, in a small way, to change this stigma? 

Then, in January 2021, my father-in-law died suddenly. It knocked me sideways. He was a lifelong educator, and a kind and fair man, and I hadn't realised the impact he'd made on me. Suddenly, teaching didn't seem like a fall back or an afterthought. It felt like something positive and necessary: helping people to realise how key maths is and how confident they should be in their maths abilities.

Within a month or so of this realisation I had applied and been accepted to train as a maths teacher in the school where my father-in-law had been a teacher and leader. Now, it's where I'm learning to teach, and learning to help students to believe in themselves.

By Toby Hawkins

Find Toby on Twitter as @mathshawk


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