Unfortunately, there's something glamorous about being bad at maths

9th May 2003 at 01:00
Especially if you're a girl and you're good at English

The life of a special needs teacher involves many challenges. Writing individual education plans, running anger management groups, chasing down the road after one of your statemented kids who's decided to go home. It also means supporting in lessons. I don't mind that as a rule, as long as it's a lovely English lesson and I can sit at the front with the teacher talking about the books I've read.

So imagine how I felt when my timetable this year contained a large proportion of support - in a maths class. No mistake. This was for real.

Goodbye lovely books, hello horrible numbers. Welcome to numerical hell.

After all, the idea of supporting a teacher is that you can be of some kind of practical help, not provide another distraction in a class of 30 students. You're not meant to have to differentiate for the support teacher.

You've got to understand maths and me. We've a long history. My most abiding memory of primary school is weeping because I couldn't do long division. "What's all this snorting?" my Year 5 teacher wanted to know.

Being put into the bottom maths set in secondary school was a relief. Still I couldn't do it. My dad did my GCSE coursework, and the teachers turned a blind eye because everyone knew it wasn't worth trying to explain it to me.

Miraculously, I managed to scrape a C. That remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of my life.

But I was never really that bothered about my mathematical traumas.

Unfortunately, there's something quite glamorous about being bad at maths.

Especially if you're a girl and you're good at English. You're one of the creative types who goes walking in the rain and sticks a pencil in her hair then conveniently forgets about it. I liked living up to this stereotype, even when it was distinctly unglamorous not to know about maths, such as transactions involving any kind of exchange rate, and quick calculations in Tesco.

So I was quaking in my shoes as I entered my first Year 7 maths class to support. Supposedly. My one qualification for the job is that I can at least remember the answer to 7 x 7. I try to sit at the back, away from the clever ones, and hope no one notices me counting on my fingers. It's been an eye-opener. As the year has progressed, I have begun to learn maths with the rest of the class and, strangely enough, it's becoming a bit clearer.

The teacher doesn't mind helping me, with the rest of my table group, because I think he thinks I'm asking questions to make it clear for the students. Little does he know. Around February, I found I was quite enjoying it, and I haven't been reduced to tears once, let alone any snorting. I've even been able to offer some vague help at times, even if it's just confessing that I can't do it either. We've had a numeracy Inset, and I've learned that numbers can be as misleading as words. That was a valuable lesson. You've got to want to see the point before you learn to do it properly.

"I'm only good at English, Miss," one of my Year 7 girls confided during a lesson that we spent struggling with some tracing paper and a many-sided object. But, of course, she's not. Some things might come easy, but there's a mathematician inside all of us - you just need to find it at the right time in your life.

Gemma Warren is an assistant special needs co-ordinator at a London secondary school. Email: gemmablaker@hotmail.com

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