Bouquet of the week

30th April 1999 at 01:00
Once a teacher, always a teacher. That's Dr Julia Matthews, aged 84, who undertook "emergency training" in 1949 and has never really stopped teaching.

"She is full of enthusiasm, life and vigour," says Sue Walker, headteacher of Upland Infant School in the London borough of Bexley, where Dr Matthews is a friend, visitor and governor. Nominating her for Bouquet of the Week, Sue Walker praised her dedication to learning.

Dr Matthews is particularly devoted to maths and children's understanding of the subject. "I enjoy teaching maths," she admits, "because it's a challenge and I know I can make it fun."

Numbers are the theme of a new playground area at Upland, which Dr Matthews helped to design and plan. She's pictured here leaning on the coloured "pencil" fence constructed by the school caretaker. There's a pattern of colours "which, of course, is the beginning of algebra" and a range of heights for measuring and comparing.

Dr Matthews was a primary head in inner London for 15 years, and on retirement began a PhD, focusing on the mathematical errors that six and seven-year-olds make - she found that formal methods were confusing when introduced too early. She advocates mental agility learned through practical experience. "Children need to touch things, use things and see things in their own minds." At Upland, where she teaches small groups once a week, maths is also about "eating things"- home-made number biscuits are part of her toolkit.

In Bexley she devised base-line assessment for five-year-olds long before it became commonplace. She says the numeracy hour is "working well" in a pilot scheme at her former school in Charlton, south-east London, but she fears it will "become a slog". She says:"If you don't allow teachers to be creative you won't get creative children."

The voice is the tool of a teacher's trade and it needs tender loving care. This week's Mind and Body offers advice, particularly to those who are hoarse every weekend. And from America we report on the way teachers cope in the aftermath of violence in schools, the massacre at Colorado's Columbine High being the latest in a chilling list. Awareness of warning signs is something all teachers can consider.

Bouquet of the Week is given in association with Marks amp; Spencer. Names, please, on a postcard - and why - to Sarah Bayliss, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY.

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