Divide and conquer

27th March 2015 at 00:00

In the interests of keeping my job, could I please request that anyone I work for in a teaching capacity doesn't read on? Thank you.

Right. Now we've got rid of them I can tell you my guilty secret. My 10-year-old has bypassed me in maths. And he's not one of those genius kids that used to crop up on John Craven's Newsround in the 1980s, clutching A-level certificates instead of an Etch A Sketch. He's just a normal, happy 10-year-old, somewhere in the middle of his maths group, with homework that I can't do.

I am proficient enough with the numbers required to run our home and finances and to meet my own business needs. For years I have clung to my grade C in GCSE maths, kidding myself that my lack of understanding is a charming slip of the brain, rather than a problem.

As my son's homework advances, he often asks me to go through it with him. We enjoy discussing English tasks, but in recent months I've had to concede that I can't help with big chunks of his maths.

He goes back to school and spends time with his teacher on the elements that he doesn't fully understand, then teaches them to me when he gets home. This gives him a certain amount of confidence, but it makes me feel like a rubbish parent. And from the perspective of my own professional practice, I know that I need to do something about it.

So I've decided that in September I'm going to enrol at a further education college to do a maths GCSE. My son is proud of me for making this commitment to something that I don't enjoy or find easy and takes comfort in the idea that I'll be starting at a new "school" at the same time as him. But I think he's also secretly relieved that I will be able to help him with a subject that he also finds challenging.

The college I teach at is more than an hour's drive from where I live, so it makes sense for me to sign up to a course nearer to home. But this has raised issues. It would seem that I'm looking at paying about pound;300 for a part-time GCSE course. On seeing the price, I thought: "I'd better get a bloody good teacher if I'm forking out."

This made me fret about how the quality of my own teaching is assessed. Whether it's fair to do so, it's certainly easy to dismiss the value of observations and Ofsted; everyone loves sticking it to the man. Other measures, such as end-of-year statistics, can be explained by circumstances - for example, my class was at 4pm on a Friday and no one turned up.

I don't currently teach anyone who is paying for their own education, but that doesn't mean it's free. Ultimately, someone pays. I choose to teach because of the intrinsic worth of supporting people to reach further but also because I enjoy it. Knowing I have worked hard and done my best for my students trumps any other judgement.

That said, someone choosing to spend their hard-earned cash on my classes exerts a different kind of pressure. Is this the question I should be asking myself: am I offering value for money?

Sarah Simons works in FE colleges in the East Midlands. @MrsSarahSimons


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today