GUEST BLOG: Why I am still an optimist
Written by Peter Hall, Beacon Academy, Crowborough Thursday, 30 April 2015
After 20 years teaching there are days when things seem not to be going well. My year 11 ought to be at their best, working hard to squeeze the most out of every last precious minute, but instead I find too many of them happy to chat and achieve very little. In the department we seem to be struggling to be aiming for anything more than a narrow focus on exam success, as a school the government’s cuts for sixth form funding are starting to bite and as a country education seems to be redefined almost daily as politician’s battle for the voters’ attention.
And then I spend an hour with my year 7 group, a small group of students who find maths a huge struggle, whose number sense isn’t complete, who mostly need to count on their fingers and who usually can’t remember very much from one day to the next. But they are so charming and so polite (most of the time) and keen to learn and although terrified of tests they do arrive for each lesson with a positive outlook and a cheerful nature. And we tackle probability and they make good contributions and ask good questions and a good hour is had by all. And our good hour isn’t because I’ve made good use of different learning styles, and I’ve not had to address thinking skills and they are happy to learn and discuss without any hint of “when are we going to need this”. An hour spent explaining and practicing and encouraging seems to have worked again.
And then I remember those in the year 11 class who are constantly asking good questions and have made good progress – those who were a struggling and nervous grade C in their December mock some are now a much more confident grade B with hopes (on a good day) of achieving a grade A in the summer. And then I’m grabbed by a conversation on Twitter and the teaching matters again. And then I’m planning some lessons with Complete Mathematics and are overjoyed to see resources that others have shared so that I’m not planning from scratch again. And the funding and the politicians? I remain hopeful that wiser heads than mine will triumph and sensible thinking will prevail and the outlook isn’t so bleak after all.
About the Author
Somewhat surprised to find I’ve been teaching 20 years, varying between a comprehensive in West Sussex, a girl’s grammar school in Kent and now an 11-18 Academy in East Sussex. I’ve been on the general council for ATM, done some work for NCETM as an associate, written questions for UKMT Team Mathematics Challenges (and ran regional final events) and somewhere along the way managed to complete an MA in education. My geekiness with spreadsheets means I’m currently writing the school timetable which is harder than it looks. Outside of school (!) I’ve two children, aged 7 and 9, am a churchwarden (at a church with a vicar leaving – so a responsibility to be a major part of the process of finding the next one) and I help run a Christian summer houseparty for 11-14 year olds.