Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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28/8/17: the countdown is on!

As I've mentioned briefly already in previous posts, from next week I will be school teaching again.  This is a move I've thought a great deal about over the last few years and I'm really looking forward to it.  I'm delighted with the school which has been kind enough to take me on.  I've known the school from the outside for many years, and have been colleagues previously with at least two teachers I'll be working with, including the head of the mathematics department.  Contact me privately and I'll tell you which school it is.

Part of the motivation for the move is the sense that, if I'm supposed to be an expert in school teaching, it doesn't do any harm actually to do it!  Of course, in practice, life isn't that simple for a number of reasons.  It's in the nature of middle management (at least in my experience!) that part of the job is doing what needs to be done to make things work, in practice this meant that the teaching I did - which was far less in terms of contact hours than school teaching - went someway from mathematics, including teacher education; teaching, learning and assessment; and gender in education, all of which I enjoyed doing but took me away from mathematics so I'm aware that I'm somewhat rusty as a full time school mathematics teacher.  Also, it's in the nature of working in a University education department that one develops a relatively small repertoire of demonstration lessons which exemplify particular points, eg. the connection between specific lessons and learning theories.  This is, of course, somewhat different from the demands of school teaching where the range needs to be much greater in keeping going with the same classes week in week out.

(Parenthetical thought: I once heard a school inspector say that one of the depressing aspects of the job was grading individual lessons as satisfactory whilst thinking that, if this was the standard of teaching right through the year, the overall experience would be unsatisfactory.  I would want to suggest that the converse is also true: an individual lesson may be rated as 'outstanding' with lots of exciting things going on, but if this is youngsters' experience all the time then this is not outstanding, there needs also to be time and space to consolidate, practise, do routine work.  Alas, as on so many points I think I'm speaking outside of the spirit of the age!  End of parenthetical thought.)

I would say also - and this argument needs to be applied with some caution - that school teaching on the one hand, and working in an education department in a University on the other, are two somewhat different jobs, in much the same way that being a tennis player and a tennis coach are, and also a school teacher and a head teacher.  As a teacher trainer I've had some excellent students who have had great difficulty writing critically reflective essays for a number of reasons, one of which, I think, is that good teaching came easily, being critically reflective is much easier when there's a sense of struggle to get things right.

And an aligned point is that, to take an example, I've been used to sitting in seminar rooms pondering with students matters such as pupils making progress in their learning.  What does 'learning' mean?  How can we be sure that progress has been made?  All of which is really interesting, of course, but somewhat different from the record keeping, and use of it, required of teachers working with large numbers of pupils - and I'm very aware that mathematics teachers work with far small numbers than, say, drama teachers - on a daily basis.  Putting it bluntly, there isn't the time to spend hours and hours agonising over the underlying theory, you just have to get on and do it!  Again, there are differences in the jobs to come to terms with.

Few practical things as well.  One of the problems I experienced whilst supply teaching was drinking black coffee during breaks!  By the time I'd got to the staff room and made a cup, there wasn't time for it sufficiently to cool before needing to go to the next lesson.  More generally, there's a much stronger culture of needing to be at a certain place at a certain time doing certain things than in University lecturing.  This includes, of course, having considerably longer holidays than I've been used to which will be great - but necessarily at set times when it's expensive to travel.  And also wearing a jacket and tie every day is going to be a bit of a change.

So looking forward to it - but with a level of trepidation which I think is good, it is going to take some time to readjust.  I'm looking forward to opportunities to write alongside the teaching, certainly in this blog, and hopefully elsewhere also.  So watch this space!  Meanwhile, any advice you may have for me over the next few weeks gratefully received.

1 Comment to 28/8/17: the countdown is on!:

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Veronica on 27 September 2017 11:02
Your move back to the classroom sounds really exciting! I wish you the very best and I am confident that your students will enjoy the experience will be intellectually and mathematically rewarding. I think that there is a possibility of interesting insights even though as you point out there may not be sufficient time during the term for in-depth critical reflection - perhaps during the long holidays? I look forward to hearing more about your experiences.
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