A day in the life of...

21st March 2014 at 00:00
Amid the grinding poverty of Jakarta, Indonesia, this former ballet teacher brings maths to life through dance in luxurious surroundings - but only after her car has been checked for bombs

My morning drive to school in Jakarta is a world away from my previous jobs around the globe. In Canada, it would be a silent journey through snowy landscapes in minus 30C temperatures. In the UK, it would be an irate commute while listening to politicians on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. Here, our driver stops at the entrance of the British International School while the vehicle is checked for bombs.

The luxury compound where the teachers live and the beautifully landscaped school are in shocking contrast to what I see on my way to work. We pass corrugated huts that provide shelter to the local population, open sewers and children earning coins as unofficial traffic police. The local adults are happy to make 60p an hour.

At school, privileged students from all over the world greet me with smiles. The children are open, engaged and generally a delight to teach. Taking risks in lessons is therefore a pleasure and it is a wonderful environment for trying out new ideas.

I was a ballet teacher for 10 years before I trained to teach maths, so dance and creativity are integral to my lessons. Today, two maths classes are meeting me in the theatre so I can teach them how two consecutive triangular numbers become a square.

First, I explain that upstage and downstage are literal terms based on the rake of the stage, and I teach them how ballet dancers refer to the corners and the walls to orient themselves in a rehearsal space. I then spend five minutes showing them how to stand, walk and run as dancers.

The transformation is remarkable. I treat the children as a corps de ballet and gradually, as repetition increases their understanding, they form triangular numbers, come together to make square numbers and finally finish the three-minute dance.

We are about to film the performance but there is a problem. The music I have chosen is a complex piece of jazz with many changes of time signature, and when we practise the dance it always finishes after the music has ended. We cross our fingers and the camera starts rolling. The children are focused and serious, but when the dance ends in time with the music there is a huge whoop of joy. They did it, and they are so proud of themselves.

The bell sounds and we all scatter for the next lesson: I have higher maths and complex numbers with my Year 12 students (aged 16-17), followed by a variety of other maths lessons.

As my son, daughter, husband and I leave school, we exchange tales of our day. When we arrive home at the compound, the car is checked by security.

Later, I empty my mind by swimming up and down in the warm, open-air pool and by floating on my back looking at the palm trees. Plans for the next dance are forming, something about factors, with groups splitting and coming back together. I'll call it "5 is Not a Factor of 12".

The cacophony that can come only from the competing calls to prayer of the surrounding mosques wakes me from my daydream and signals that it is time for dinner. Our maid has made delicious beef rendang, with tempeh sambal (made from deep-fried fermented soybeans) for an appetiser. Utter luxury.

Your day

Do you want to tell the world's teachers about your working day, the unique circumstances in which you teach or the brilliance of your class? If so, email richard.vaughan@tes.co.uk

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