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

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