What do you do? You're a MATHS teacher!
What is it in our modern society that makes us define and categorise people? I know I do this a lot – I have some ‘sorts’ of people that I know and when I meet someone new, I am, usually unconsciously, trying to see if they fit one of my existing categories or whether I have the excitement of making up a totally new category just for them! There are plenty of dangers in this ‘people sorting’ model – possible characteristics and attributes could be assigned to particular individuals because someone else in that category has them!
Have you had those moments at a party or social gathering when you realise someone is doing that to you? ‘So what is it you do?’, they ask. ‘Oh I teach’ is the reply. Next comes the primary/secondary debate which is followed by that crucial question ‘What do you teach?’. At this point I start to brace myself for the inevitable set of reactions that come when I say that beautiful word ‘mathematics’.
- You’re very brave.
- You must be very clever.
- I could never do that at school.
- I hated my maths teacher.
- All that ‘let x be the number’ stuff.
I’m sure you’ve had these and many more responses – it’s a real conversation killer at a party. I’m very aware that as I utter the ‘m’ word my interrogators are doing that categorisation thing to me. I’m sure you are familiar with the research done some years ago where students were asked to draw their maths teacher – we didn’t come out very well! I haven’t seen people actually check my elbows for the leather patches but I’m sure they want to.
A colleague of mine was once asked if he had a creative outlet after doing all that maths all day – he replied that mathematics gave him all the opportunities for creativity that he needed. Oops – a new category here perhaps? But it is our responses to these comments that can have such a big effect in promoting mathematics as we convey our joy and enthusiasm as my colleague did.
Mathematics is a great subject – it deals with things that are fundamentally true. The big ideas underpinning mathematics help us to describe the way the world works. Pupils who get confused or ‘don’t get’ maths have often been taught a set of algorithms (which they forget) and have lost some of the connections between mathematics and the real world. I feel my job as a mathematics educator is to give children learning experiences which help them make sense of the mathematics which is inherent in the world. I keep coming back to a statement from the Non-Statutory Guidance for the National Curriculum published in 1989:
The teacher’s job is to organise and provide the sorts of experiences which enable pupils to construct and develop their own understanding of mathematics, rather than simply communicate the ways in which they themselves understand the subject.
What do you think? What is the point of all those x’s and y’s? Why are you a mathematics teacher? You could share your ideas by making a post here.