I’m a mathematician. Well, not really, but I do have a degree in maths. Anyway, one of the many reasons that I love maths is because of the absolute nature of it. I know when I’m right and I know when something is perfect. I know that it is 100 per cent true and there is no reasonable doubt.
But I’m also a teacher. And what I love about teaching is that it’s not absolute. I love the fact that I’m never going to be perfect but I’m still going to try.
I replan an activity, change my questioning, resequence a topic. And each time I think, “That’s it, I’ve cracked it! This will never fail. Everyone I teach will be fantastic, maths-loving confident students now." And, of course, I never get it right, something doesn’t work, or something can be improved, or the students tell me they STILL don't get it. And that’s one of the frustrating aspects of teaching. But it’s also what gets me out of bed in the morning. I still secretly think to myself that "today will be the day".
Sometimes I feel like the contestants of Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners who are desperate for a germ-free home but just can’t quite achieve it. Or the writer in Camus’ The Plague who’s constantly trying to produce the perfect first sentence.
'There's always more I can do'
When I complain about my workload, non-teachers just shrug and tell me it’s about being more efficient and working smarter. I think they’re missing the point. There’s always more that I can do and more that I can make better. There’s always a different student who I can help and push, and maybe, just maybe, inspire.
So I carry on complaining. But I still carry on trying to improve. And I still carry on the quest for the perfect maths lesson. And until I achieve that, I guess I have to carry on getting out of bed in the morning!
Elizabeth Bridgett is specialist leader of education - maths at Kings Norton Girls’ School in Birmingham
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