Heroes and Gifts

Presents for teachers

I don’t really “do” heroes, if I were to compile a list of my heroes it wouldn’t be long, but it would include Martin Lewis, of Money Saving Expert fame – he talks sense, knows his numbers and genuinely tries to make the world better place for everyone. He’s been in the news and across social media of late sharing his thoughts on gifts for teachers. (In essence, don’t feel obliged to buy them. If you really do want to give a gift to a teacher club together to give a class gift) As a teacher, I’m always grateful for any gifts I recieve, but certainly don’t expect them, or prioritise those that do give me gifts.

But this post is not about whether or not gifts should be given to teachers, but a true tale from my past when I was young teacher, a couple of years into my career.

Like pretty much all teachers, in addition to teaching my subject (maths) I was also the tutor to a number of students – they registered with me first thing each morning, I was a point of contact between parent and school and I did my best to look after the overall academic progress and pastoral needs of those in my tutor group. I had taken them on the year before, as fresh faced Year 7s, new into secondary education, and, for continuity, I had hung on to them for another year. So, by the end of the Autumn term of Year 8 I knew them pretty well, the (loveable) rogues from the well-behaved, the academic high fliers and those that found their studies more of challenge. I knew them, they knew me, and, on the whole we all got along well, most of the time.

As November turned to December, the days got shorter and the weather got colder, one of my “loveable rogues” approached me with his customary big beaming smile on his face.

“Sir” he said (things were still rather formal back then) “sir, I’ve asked my mum for five bottles of wine to bring in for Christmas gifts for teachers. I’m going to give one to you, and one to Miss Jones [his English teacher] ‘cos I like her. And I’m going to keep the other three for me.”

I was touched that Tom* felt I was worthy of a gift, and also a little touched but perhaps a bit more concerned that he was happy to share his plan with me. Anyway, later that day I picked up the phone:

“Good afternoon, Mrs Smith* I hope you are well. I’m Tom’s tutor at school. … Yes, I’m well, thank you, no nothing to worry about, no he’s not in trouble. I just wanted to give you a quick call to suggest that if you are sending Tom into school with any gifts for his teachers, chocolates may be a better choice than wine. … No, no problem at all. Merry Christmas.”

Later that week, I raised a wry smile as Tom – ever so slightly grudgingly – handed me a beautifully wrapped box of chocolates as my Christmas gift.

*not Tom’s real name. Although more than 25 years have passed since this story, and countless students have filed through my classroom, I still remember Tom – I’m not sure I ever taught him anything, but as a beginner teacher, Tom and his antics taught me a whole lot about my chosen profession.

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A glimpse of the future …

A glimpse into the future …

I’ve glimpsed the future, or, perhaps more accurately, I glimpsed my future.

And it wasn’t a happy sight …

October half-term, a chance to catch your breath after the excitement of the start of a new year begins to wane, but the pace doesn’t. A chance to ask: “Where did the time go? How did we get here?” On one hand, it seems like only a moment ago term began, but on the other those long lazy days of the summer holidays seem a lifetime ago.

Needing a mental detox after so many weeks in the classroom, on the first Monday of half term, I headed for the peace and tranquillity of a beautiful National Trust park. This being in a different county from mine, most local schools were still in session, and I ambled the grounds, and took in the vista, far from the madding-crowd, with barely another soul – and certainly very few children – to be seen. The stresses and strains of the September and October ebbed away, falling like the leaves from the trees …

Our circular perambulation finished at around midday, and my wife and I decided we would have a spot of lunch, before heading home. It was here that I had a glimpse of my future, and I’m not sure I liked what I saw.

Entering the cafeteria, and having chosen my feast, my wife stayed in the queue, whilst I headed into the dining area to secure us somewhere to sit. The first room was full (a good sign, I thought, plenty of customers must mean the food is good (and it was)) and I headed through into a second eating area and bagged myself the only table left. So far, so good.

It was good to sit down after my morning’s walk, and I enjoyed the peace as I contemplated my meal to come. After a few minutes, something began to nibble away at the back of my mind. I couldn’t place it, but something didn’t feel right. Perhaps it was just pangs of hunger – what was keeping my wife, the queue wasn’t that long was it? My sense of unease and uncertainty began to grow, something wasn’t quite right, but what? And before I could arrive at an answer my wife – and lunch – arrived, and, once again, all was well with the world.

Or was it?

As I ate my stew and potatoes, something was eating away at me. And then it dawned on me.

It was just so quiet. Some might say peaceful, but I would say quiet. The room was full, but barely a word was spoken. I looked around at my fellow dinners. Most, like me, had grey hair – or none at all, most, like me, were “of an age” – in fact most were a few (or 10+) my senior, and most, unlike me, were enjoying a quiet, peaceful dinning experience.

And that’s when it dawned on me, that’s when I knew what my niggling doubt was. That’s when I realised I had glimpsed my future, and I wasn’t so keen on it.

Of course, who would – who could – be out and about on a midday-Monday in late October? The retired, and I thought that this could be me in five or ten years time. I’ve been spending an increasing amount of time pouring over pension statement, plotting my way out of the classroom, but sat eating that wonderful lunch, in a beautiful environment, surrounded by happy, contented people mad me think: “perhaps not yet.”

Although in need of my half-term break, in that moment I realised that I still love the hub-bub and vibrancy of my school community, the vitality and life to be found in my school canteen. Yes, students can be noisy, yes, they can be loud, yes they can get things wrong, and yes they can challenge and be challenging, but that excitement, that hope, that joie de vivre that they bring can be, and is, life affirming, and I’m not ready to forsake that just yet.

My lunch was delicious, but even more memorable was the realisation that whilst I might give them knowledge, experience, wise-counsel, the young people in my school give me an energy that keeps me wanting to go back to the classroom everyday.

I still pour over my pension plan, and still plot my days beyond the school gates, but having glimpsed my future, I’m happy to put those plans on hold for a little longer.

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My favourite prime

Toby Farman, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I will confess, I got a little excited over the Christmas break when I began hearing of youngsters discussing their favourite prime.

For me, it has to be 2 – both the first prime, and also, uniquely, the only even prime.

The word prime is derived from the Latin “primis” meaning first (the prime numbers are the first numbers as all other numbers (integers) are subsequently made from the “primis” numbers by multiplying them), so 2 could be said to be the “prime prime” (prime squared, anyone? OK, I’m taking possibly taking a few liberties here …!)

But my excitement was to be short lived when a realised that they were talking about some new drink, a new craze that, like so many new crazes, had passed me by.

I write this post at the dawn of a new year, when it is customary to make predictions about what will unfold in the coming twelve months. Well here’s a prediction from me: this time next year the excitement over the prime drink will have waned, but the prime numbers will still be there for us, the building blocks of all other integers, and 2 will still be my favourite, the prime prime.

[And now an apology/explanation from me. Looking back, I realise it has been nearly two years since I posted. We were still in the second lockdown – teaching from home – when I wrote my last post. I think in the excitement of returning to the physical classroom I lost my writing mojo, and struggled to find any inspiration for what to write. I have challenged myself to put that write in 2023, writing at least once a month. We are all full of good intentions in January, let’s see if I am good to my word]

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Top Ten


Just before I was due to teach Period 1 this morning my computer chimed, announcing the arrival of (yet another) email.

Thinking that I might be able to action and delete it before the lesson began, I clicked to open it. I’m glad I did, its the best email I’ve received all week:

Good morning
Knowing you find beauty in football and maths alike, check out the top ten in league division two. Perhaps you have already!
Have a good day,

Well, Year 11 could wait – I scuttled over to the BBC Sport webpage and checked the standings at the top of League Two:

Now, I’ve no idea if this has happened before, or how likely it is to happen (and I’ve no idea how one would even begin to work that probability out) but it made me smile, perhaps it will make you smile too.

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Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.

Mistakes, however, I’ve made (and continue to make) many of them.

I made one this morning. I was working through a difficult “ladders” question with an A level Mechanics class, a problem that I had set as a homework and most couldn’t complete.

And so, with the power of OneNote and Teams, the class were able to watch and listen to me as I demonstrated how to do the question, interjecting as appropriate for clarification or help as required.

On completing the question I asked the class if they now understood, if they were happy with what I had shown them.  They all were.

Until a few minutes later, when one student suggested I had made a mistake with one part of my answer.

I asked him to talk me through his thinking, and he was right, I was wrong. (We were calculating a range of values needed for a force to stop a ladder slipping, and I had got my upper bound wrong.)

Whilst I will confess to being a little frustrated with myself for making the error, that is more than compensated with the sense of satisfaction and pride I vicariously took from my student; the apprentice has surpassed his master, and isn’t that what we all really want as teachers? For our students to leave us having learned all that they can from us?

Mistakes – we should celebrate them for what they are, whoever makes them, a chance to learn. After all, if no-one ever made any mistakes we’d never have the opportunity to improve.


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