My First-Week-Back Goal: Hook, Line and Sinker

I’m writing this article in response to a Blog Initiation Drive organised by all the good guys in the maths edublogging jungle.

It’s not just my first week back, it’s also my pupils’ first week at secondary school. For the fourth consecutive year, I find myself preparing to teach the incoming pupils, the youngest yeargroup, the year 7s. The ones fresh out of primary school. They may only be 11 but sadly, many of them have already decided how they feel about their mathematical ability and, worse still, what they think they’re capable of.

“Maths isn’t my favourite subject.”
“I’m bad at maths.”
“She is better than me at maths.”
“I like English more because I’m good at it.”
“I wasn’t born to be good at maths.”
“I get it from my Dad – he hates maths too.”

So what’s my first-week-back goal? To get my new pupils in their new school to buy into maths, into me and into their own abilities. To do that, in lesson one, I get all Michelle-Pfeiffer on them and sell them something they never thought they could afford…to dream huge.

This is how the Big Sell goes:
[Cue main soundtrack title from Gladiator, the one with the rousing build-up that crescendoes in pounding battle music.]
: Close your eyes, I want to tell you a story. If it helps, you can rest your head on the desk.
Pupils: [20 pairs of eyes close, 20 heads drop forwards.]
Teacher: Listen carefully. I’m going to fastforward you to about 5 years from now, to June 2017. It’s the day of your last maths exam. You’re feeling confident, you’ve been studying hard and this is your chance to show what you’re capable of. You get off to a flying start and, sure, you feel some exam nerves but that’s normal. However, with 5 minutes left of the exam you start to lose your cool as you think about time running out.

After what seems like an age, the exam finishes and you breathe only half a sigh of relief as you now have to face your friends and what they thought of the exam. Once outside, you chat about the questions that came up, the ones you found easy and the ones you didn’t. You wish you could go back inside the exam hall and check what you wrote. But you can’t and it only makes it worse that you now have to wait for 2 months to get your results!

The weeks pass and you largely forget about Results Day. From time to time, the thought of opening your exam results pops into your head and makes you feel sick.

Finally the day arrives and after a night of very little sleep you walk to school to collect your results. On the way in, you see friends you haven’t seen for 8 weeks. They’re looking nervous too, which doesn’t help, and your mouth becomes dry. None of them can tell you it’s going to be alright. The outcomes of your education for the last 11 years are contained in an envelope. The contents of the same envelope will determine some major life choices, like what you do next year and the year after. And then after that and after that. Today you will walk away with GCSE results that you can never walk away from. Good or bad.

These thoughts do little to make you feel more calm as you approach the teachers who are wishing everyone good luck as they hand out the envelopes.

[Gladiator music is about to reach its peak about now.]

OK, now is the moment! You are handed your envelope. Open your eyes and find the envelope that has been placed on your desk while your eyes were closed.

[As the music gets to the thumping bit, pupils reach for the envelopes and inside they find the results of their dreams. A*s in all their subjects, including maths!]

[embedplusvideo height=”252″ width=”300″ standard=”″ vars=”ytid=xFCt4UDgjYA&width=300&height=252&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep8142″ /]

At this point, pupils are usually feeling pretty euphoric and just to reinforce the point, I show them the video on the right of two GCSE pupils who did incredibly well.

We discuss the feelings they’re having and they feelings of the girls in the video and they usually say things like

“I’m so happy with my results!”
“Great results can never be taken away from you.”
“I want to do well like those girls.”

This tells me they’ve fallen hook, line and sinker.

If I’ve timed things well, the lesson should be about to end. I want their last memory of their first lesson to be a massive high before the hard work starts tomorrow.


Goal setting HW
GCSE Certificate – fake merged

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6 Replies to “My First-Week-Back Goal: Hook, Line and Sinker”

  1. I like how you help your students visualize how they are going to do on their maths exam in 5 years. That’s really cool!

    1. Thanks Lisa. The visualising seems to work – they get really fired up afterwards.
      BTW, thank you for being my first non-spam commenter, ever. When I got the “WordPress Comment” email, I was all set to Trash It. It was a pleasant surprise not to be being sold something! All the best, Bruno

  2. Hi, really enjoyed your first week goal, I’ve been working as a Maths TA and will be starting on GTP trainee programme next week, been thinking about how to introduce myself, motivate and encourage kids to believe in themselves and to enjoy maths. This will be going into my log as a must do activity.


    1. Hi Nadeem, thanks for the comment. That first lesson with each of your classes is so critical. They will love you for going big – don’t worry about holding back the hype.
      Let me know if you need any resources for the lesson – I may already have them.
      Good luck with the GTP programme and starting up your blog.

  3. Hi Bruno

    It’s Flo who came to see you at KSA in June. I’m starting at my Teach First school tomorrow!

    This sounds really cool and I think I’ll give it a try with my Year 7’s this week. Do you think it matters that they’re in a lower set? And do you think it would work with my older classes too?


    1. Hi Flo,

      Yes to year 7s and yes to older classes. In fact, I think it would work with any class that you’re taking over. It’s a good way of showing them how much you believe in them from the start.

      Hope it goes well!


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