This is a question I am often asked by my students. My enthusiasm and passion for my subject is apparent (and sometimes a laughing point for my class) and so people assume that I have always felt this way.
It’s not true. I haven’t always been naturally good at Maths and I didn’t always enjoy my lessons.
What I did enjoy was pattern spotting, being creative and the rewarding feeling of doing a page of work and getting to an answer in the end. The frustration of trying to find my mistake if the answer wasn’t correct was also enriching and gave me the resilience I needed.
For me, Maths at school was, I expect, similar to most people of my generation and generations before that: textbook, blackboard, silence, red ticks and ‘must do better’ comments accompanying the crosses. My teacher used to become visibly annoyed at the sight of me at his desk, book in hand, asking (for the third time) why this method worked every time. He’d briefly explain it and off I’d trot to re-explain to my friends – I think this was the point I realised that teaching may be the career for me.
So no, I didn’t love Maths at school, but I worked hard at it and it paid off.
When I got to A-level, my Maths teacher was inspirational, passionate and supportive, explaining concepts in multiple ways until I fully understood, and showing the beauty of Maths at every opportunity. I excelled and I enjoyed it, despite its challenges, and decided to take it to university. We won’t go there…
I find it heart-breaking the amount of bad press my subject receives.
When meeting new people and the usual ‘What do you do for a living?’ conversation commences, I am always met with the ‘Ooooh you’re brave’ and the ‘I hated Maths at school’ comments.
Parents can be just as bad: ‘Maths isn’t my thing’, ‘I was terrible at Maths’ are regular comments on parents’ evenings. Unbeknownst to them, this gives their child a green light for an excuse as to why they may not be progressing as much as they could be. TV and other media also give Maths a bad name – constantly conveying Maths homework as a punishment and regularly labelling it the worst/most boring subject in school. People have this irrational fear of Maths, and regularly forget a) how beautiful it is and b) just how fundamental it is in our everyday lives.
Maybe it was boring back in the day, but not anymore! Our young mathematicians get to investigate, argue, make conjectures, prove, create, visualise, demonstrate and solve problems. They get to play games, solve mysteries, create art and use manipulatives to aid their understanding. They have unlimited resources at their fingertips, both interactive and physical. They have passionate and enthusiastic teachers who go above and beyond to get the very best out of their students and to make their lessons as engaging and challenging as possible. At Heathfield we provide trips, Maths challenges, master-classes and extra Maths clubs which are all highly attended and very much enjoyed.
Gone are the blackboard and textbook days! And surely these outdated stereotypes should go in the same direction.
Harriet Lambert. Maths.
Does your subject suffer the same stereotypes? Or other negative views?
How can we work together to raise the profile of these subjects we feel passionately about?
How can we quash this negativity and ensure our students and parents appreciate our efforts and the difference between how it was and how it is?