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.]
Teacher: 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!]
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.