First encounters

19th May 2000 at 01:00
Class 5 was waiting for my first maths lesson. Hoping the children wouldn't discern my nervousness, I encouraged myself with the thought that at least nobody could say I was unprepared.

During my university training, I watched videos of breathtakingly enthusiastic teachers delivering their daily maths lesson with extraordinary vitality. I was determined to do the same, despite feeling slightly unnerved by the pace of delivery. At home, I practised stimulating mentaloral introductions in front of a full-length mirror, impressing both my teenage daughter and the cat. I began to feel confident about using partitioning to carry out multiplication, and knew my nine-times tables (even the tricky seven and eight times bit). My debut had arrived and I was up for it. As it turned out, so was class 5.

For 10 weeks we chanted our tables, doubled and halved like there was no tomorrow, played monster multiplication, and even managed a few flow games until I lost three of the crucial cards. On the whole, the daily maths lesson worked for class 5 - and for me. We didn't quite manage to keep up with the scheme of work, but we did get better at calculating in our heads, became more confident about explaining our thinking and eventually cracked ratio by spreading multi-link cubes and ratio cards to all four corners of the classroom.

"Bravo, Mrs Jell," I hear you cry as I sing my own and the children's praises. But please hear me out. You see, I have a love-hate relationship with mathematics, which is all down to two teachers: Miss Jameson and Miss Warren.

Miss Jameson was a large, imposing woman who assaulted me with a daily barrage of mental arithmetic questions during my final year at primary school. The memory of hervoice terrifies me to this day. "Nine sevens, nine sixes, nine eights. Quick girl, quick!" She would have hated digit cards simply because with them I just might have stood a chance - especially if I'd sat next to Richard Malone, who knew his times-tables backwards.

Secondary school released me from Miss Jameson's tender care and my maths education was put into the hands of Miss Warren, whom I love with a passion to this day. I spent five gloriously bewildered years with her in "C" division maths where my classmates and I were assured in her lilting Welsh accent that everything would become clear eventually. We were nursed, coached and encouraged and, amazingly, every one of us passed our O-level maths.

So, for me, doing maths is both scary and reassuring. During my teaching practice, it seemed that most of class 5 felt the same, but together we gave the daily maths lesson our best shot. We developed new strategies and I probably learned as much as the children did.

I am now all too aware that soon I will have to sit the TTA test to prove my competency in numeracy. Consequently, Miss Jameson has returned to haunt me - I am convinced that it will be her voice reading out those mental arithmetic questions on the day. And, with the whole test to be completed in 45 minutes, speed will be of the essence.

But I have been thinking. As we are the first students to undergo this form of testing, could it be made a little more user friendly? Perhaps the test itself could be presented more like the daily maths lesson. Perhaps we could all use digit cards for the mental section and maybe even work in pairs for the written part of the paper...

Bridget Jell is a fourth-year student at Exeter university

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