Let there be light bulbs

30th January 2015 at 00:00

I've just had a light-bulb moment. Years ago, a headteacher taught me a quick method for multiplying a two-digit number by 11: you add the two digits of the number being multiplied, then insert the answer in between them. The kids love it; they see it as a magic trick. In all honesty, so did I until recently. But as I was explaining it to my class this week I suddenly realised why it works.

All teachers recognise light-bulb moments - when something clicks for a child and you can almost hear the cogs whirring as they finally nod in understanding. These moments are not just the domain of the children; teachers have just as many, if not more.

I love learning new stuff. After years in teaching, I have concluded that I would make an ideal pupil - sitting through someone else's lesson is pretty much my ideal way to spend an afternoon (my social life clearly needs an overhaul). Sadly, like most of the children I teach, I didn't feel this way at their age. Dozens of topics remained an enigma to me until I had to teach them years later.

I can now tell you what the surface area of the Moon is, at what temperature gold becomes a liquid and what, in detail, was found in Tutankhamun's tomb. My times tables are in great shape and I have just figured out why triangular numbers are so called (I'm a natural mathematician like Edna Everage is a natural dame).

Barely a week goes by when I don't learn something new and yet I very rarely hear subject knowledge discussed. It is presumed that, once you've been let loose in the classroom, you know it all. Even when teaching primary-aged children, this couldn't be further from the truth. Take science. When I started teaching, I still struggled to see how electricity doesn't leak out of sockets. I thought the vena cava was a sparkling wine and I genuinely believed it was more likely to snow in January than December because all the Christmas partying, shopping and general joie de vivre warmed the Earth up too much.

Suddenly, I was having to explain why the tilt of the Earth caused the seasons and what a microorganism was, while fielding questions about where the seeds are in a banana and whether fire is a solid, liquid or gas. I only muddled through thanks to a very patient deputy headteacher who became accustomed to me flying into his room three minutes before the end of lunchtime with a diagram of the heart and queries about the correct pronunciation of "waning gibbous".

When I do falter, the children often come to the rescue. I've had both my arithmetic and spelling corrected by 10-year-olds and I long ago stopped kidding myself that I can lay claim to the title of "teacher" when it comes to ICT.

But it would be great for teachers to be on the receiving end of a few lessons beyond Professor Google. Even if it didn't help our teaching, it should, at the very least, improve our chances in pub quizzes.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


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