Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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21/1/18: at school (4): I've joined the staff dance troupe!

It all started with the school carol service, held in a church building a short walk from school.  I was playing the Organ and, because of the layout of the building, quite a large number of people - particularly colleagues - had a clear view of me playing.  In kindly thanking me afterwards, a number of people particularly commented on my use of the pedal board, and I can see that, if you've not seen an Organist in operation at close quarters before, that is likely to be the most striking feature of what you're seeing.

So, the school dance show is coming up next week, and it is the custom for some of the staff to come together to do a presentation.  So, volunteers are needed.  Come on, Geoff, say colleagues, you'll be great!  We've seen you play the Organ so we know that you can do the footwork!

Heavy sigh - which I believe is spelt 'humph' or maybe 'hmph'.  There is little if any connection, I would suggest, between using the pedal board on an Organ and dancing.  But, thinks I, let's give this a go, in for a penny, in for a pound, or some such suitable cliche!

Rehearsals started last week and I immediately found myself completely out of my depth.  Everybody else not only already knew the songs to which we were dancing but had a good sense already of the moves, with things like, "So we do the jive on the 2 step and then go into mashed potatoes" actually making sense to them.  I mean, mashed potatoes?  Mashed potatoes?  Is that a thing?  People had muttered conversations which I could barely hear let alone understand, do some elaborate dance move - and then before I've had time to catch my breath, we're onto the next song.  Hold on, I'm wanting to say, I've no idea what the first one is all about, certainly not ready to go onto the next!

The way things are being organised is that there's a large number of short rehearsals before school without the expectation that everybody attend all of them, which does make sense given colleagues' commitments.  But it does mean that I practise with one person one day and then another the next which gets somewhat confusing for somebody as easily confused as me.  Ah well, just call me John Sergeant.

(Parenthetical thought: just to explain that last reference for my non-UK visitors, Sergeant is a well known TV journalist and political commentator.  In 2008 he appeared on the popular TV programme, 'Strictly coming dancing' which is a knockout dancing competition for celebrities paired up with professional dancers.  John Sergeant was so appallingly bad that the British public loved him and kept on voting for him.  In the end he withdrew for fear that he would win the whole competition.  I don't know whether being loved for being really bad works outside of the UK, but please believe me, in a British context it really does!  End of parenthetical thought.)

By the end of the week things were starting to take shape and I had some idea as to what I was supposed to do, although, 'Where's Geoff?' seems to be a bit of repeated rallying cry as I still can't quite work out how to get from one section to another.  Performance is on Thursday, I'll let you know how it goes!

So, why am I doing this?  A number of reasons I suppose.  It's nice to be invited, and it's really good to be involved in aspects of the life of the school beyond the maths department, and to demonstrate by actions the importance I attach to the wider life of the school.  And actually, the camaraderie is great and I am actually quite enjoying it at times, honest!

But there is another point here.  So far pupils have seen me primarily as a mathematics teacher and also as a pianist and organist.  Whilst I do not set myself up as a particularly brilliant teacher, I think my pupils would agree that I do know the mathematics and as a keyboardist I have a useful part to play in accompanying the choir and leading singing.  That is, they see me working to areas of strength - which as adults we mostly get very used to doing.  Youngsters at school can't do that.  If you don't like maths, if you don't feel good at it, if you'd rather be anywhere else apart from the maths classroom, tough, you're stuck with it.  So I think it's really good for adults, particularly teachers, to remind ourselves occasionally as to how it feels to try to do something we can't do very well - and to be seen by pupils to be pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone which we expect from them as a matter of routine.  I'll be interested to see what the reaction is after Thursday.

It's reckoned that it takes 10 000 hours to master a skill, eg. see this news story which quotes this figure.  So it's not really surprising after about 3 hours of dancing - if that - that I'm still feeling somewhat adrift.  Can't imagine I'll ever be an expert but great to be involved.

4 Comments to 21/1/18: at school (4): I've joined the staff dance troupe!:

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Susan Short on 25 January 2018 11:21
I'm very impressed that you're doing the dance show Geoff! Absolutely agree with you about the importance of students seeing teachers having a go at something they're not expert at. I really hope it's fun for participants AND audience, and look forward to hearing about it!
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Geoff on 14 February 2018 09:50
Thank you, Faisal, agree with what you say. So - what are YOU learning about which takes you out of your comfort zone? Hope to speak soon and very best wishes, Geoff


Geoff on 14 February 2018 09:51
Thank you Susan, have now written up the dance itself, think it was fun for participants and audience - I think! Good to hear from you and hope to see you soon, Geoff


Faizal Bagegulira on 04 February 2018 07:45
Good piece. felt tickled by the pedagogical pinch to it; the experience of being stuck to something you are not good at. Indeed we casually routinely make such demands of our of our learners that we never notice challenges it makes on the learner. I guess every adult should try and learn something new, especially what they find challenging. It makes one more tolerant!
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21/1/18: at school (4): I've joined the staff dance troupe!

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