‘My daughter knows all her times tables − but hates maths'

17th November 2016 at 15:31
One teacher struggles to align her professional opinion with her personal feelings as a parent about rote-learning approaches to maths

I’m a teacher and a parent. Being either thing alone is hard enough – but being both together is often downright painful.  

On the one hand it’s hard to be a parent and respectfully push forward your progeny’s needs, stand up for their rights and defend their actions.  On the other, it’s hard to be a teacher and stick up for the other kids, hold up the entire system and try not to favour any one child (no matter how strident the parent). 

I have three children, and one of them is now in Year 6. I’d like to think I’ve been a fairly laid-back parent so far, despite being a relative bigwig in education. I only intervene when it’s crucial; I pick my battles. But my professional and personal life came crashing together last week when my daughter asked me to drill her for a times-tables test.

Confession time: she’s not that great at maths. And I’m a maths teacher. I’d like to think this was down to my deliberate laissez-fair policy, but it’s more because of laziness on my part and a reluctance to engage in a busman’s holiday when I’m not at school.

So, you could have knocked me down with a calculator when I saw how quickly my daughter had progressed with her times-tables learning.  She’s there – she’s achieved Nicky Morgan’s gold standard of learning her tables to twelve by heart.

'I hate maths'

Initially, I was impressed. My heart glowed a little. I began to imagine a rosy future where I would re-live the intricate joy of A-level maths through my daughter. As we know, times tables are one of the key cornerstones of a good mathematics education, the foundation which frees up the working memory for problem-solving and other such delights.

But then came the killer line: “God, I HATE maths.”

I swallowed hard. Is this the price? 

I’ve seen plenty written about joyless rote learning and the killing of creativity. I’ve stayed well out of these debates; they’ve always seemed artificially polarised to me. Privately, I’ve considered the rote learning of mathematical facts to be analogous to the practice of wielding a set of tools − useful, essential even, but only in readiness to tackle creative projects later on. But now I’m wondering: does creativity require a sense of fun and play that we are inadvertently striking with those same tools and killing stone dead?

Professionally, I have a detached interest in this debate. As an educator, I naturally try and do my best for my pupils and consider the evidence in as measured a way as possible.

Personally, my child hating my subject has somewhat broken my heart. I’ve probed gently, and she not only abhors the subject, but feels she is useless at it, despite the times-tables success. 

What has gone wrong here? And, more importantly, is it an isolated case or an endemic disease?

The writer is a maths teacher who wishes to remain anonymous.

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