Why we do it


I teach in a big school and that means some of us teach more than one class in the same year group. I have two year nine classes. I teach the very top set in the year and also the (for want of a better word) bottom set. Consequently I see year nine as a sandwich: I’m the two slabs of bread on the outside and all the tasty, meaty stuff is in between.

I’ve written on several occasions about my top set, the energy and excitement that they bring to lessons and the fun we have exploring the subject together. But today I want to focus on the other end of the spectrum, my lower ability set, who find the subject difficult, who find maths a challenge.

I did joke with them in September that my aim was to get them so good at maths that they all moved up a set, thereby leaving me with an empty class and a few extra “free” lessons each week. One or two took me at my word and have made the upwards move, but not all and I suspect that we will now see out the year together.

A few days ago I introduced them to scatter graphs. I quickly sketched an example on the board, we added a line of best fit and added a new word to their vocabulary: correlation. We then discussed whether or not we thought it should be positive or negative correlation . We agreed that, as the line was going “uphill” it was positive correlation.

Sir, what’s 3 divided by 2?

asked Louise. “One and a half” a replied, initially confused. But then I realised why she’d asked. “But why do you want to know?” I questioned.

Because that’s the, err, gradient

she confidently replied.

Can I show you on the board?

she asked. I agreed and she strode up to the board to give us all a masterclass on how you find the gradient of a straight line:

You draw a triangle, this is the rise, this is the run and the gradient is rise over run. The steeper the line is, the bigger the gradient.

I was delighted. It had been some weeks since we’d done that work and, not only had she retained what she’d learnt, but she’d been able to apply it to a new and unfamiliar problem.  Moments like this are why we persevere, why we never, ever, write anyone off, this is why we teach.

Who knows, perhaps after all I can get them all promoted into the set above and enjoy a few quite lessons in the summer. But if I did, I know I’d end up missing them (just don’t tell ’em I said that!)

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