Why my students like Maths

Brace yourself, this is a long one.

(FYI, i am currently teaching boys)

Before I go ahead and spill all my secrets (as if). I’ll need you to think about something. Think about a close relationship you have with someone. This could be with your partner, friend, parent or even your child. Now think about your common likes or hobbies. Now I want you to think about the things you do not have in common. Ie. Your differences (or let’s say individuality to sound a little more positive). For example, preferred foods, hobbies, film genres or even conversation topics. Now I want you to think about how many times you watched a film (or cartoon) you didn’t enjoy, ate at a restaurant u weren’t particularly fond of, and conversed about something you had no interest in. Yet you did all this because you like and respect the person that enjoys partaking in those things. Then gradually, a part of you began to like (or happily put up with) the idea of doing something that doesn’t satisfy your fancy.
I’m sure you can think of many times, especially if you have a spouse or a child!

I often relate this to teaching.

Don’t worry, this is leading somewhere…

My point here is that, when I was in school, I didn’t particularly like my teachers. (Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike them, I just had no reason to like them. But I was told I must respect them). All my teachers were as old, or older than my parents and out of touch with the reality we were living. They didn’t think they needed to build a relationship with their students. From the moment I walked through the door, there was barely a ‘’good morning’’, nor a ‘’have a nice day’’ as I walked out. The only bridge that connected us was the knowledge they were paid to pass on. Now, that’s fine if all the children in the classroom are studious and responsible adults. However, what secondary school child is? Well, I can tell you it’s not your average student. When I finally went to University and sat in my first ever lecture hall, I realized then that my school teachers were lecturing. They speak, we listen, they show, we copy, they say and we do. I luckily had my parents to keep tabs on me to make sure I didn’t fall behind. That’s just how school was unfortunately.

(Disclaimer: not all the teachers were like that, but most were).

Now, when I stumbled into teaching, the first thing that came to mind was, ‘’I want to be different to the teachers I had’’, and oh dear, I teach the most hated (and apparently pointless – ‘we have calculators now Miss!’) subject in the world. It’s Math for goodness sake! So I needed a technique, a way to win the kids. I thought, they must enjoy what I’m teaching them. So, I needed to find a way to get the kids to actually like Maths, not to just do the work because they have to. There lies a massive difference!

I’ll explain why…

Imagine you hate Maths, and you’re working on a Maths problem in class. You become stuck and don’t know how to figure out the answer. As an early teen, what is the first thing you will do? I can tell you, because I’ve seen it thousands of times! You will give up. You will huff and puff, and then you’ll give up. Then you’ll refuse to continue. You’ll proclaim the pointlessness of the topic and you’ll ask ‘’how will algebra benefit me in life anyway?!’’ to justify you giving up. I kid you not, I deal with this daily. Now, you have a student who enjoys the subject. For arguments sake, let’s say they’re in the same class. He tries the same question. Just like the first kid, he struggles and gets stuck. Now this is where the two students differ. Because this student generally enjoys the subject, naturally, he would not give up so soon. (I’ve also seen this thousands of times). He may get distressed, but he’ll keep trying. He will attempt different techniques and use skills he’d previously learnt which may lead him to the answer, or better yet, be the result of what I call the ‘’lightbulb’’ moment. Resulting in the answer.
(Lightbulb moment: This is the moment you realise what it was that was missing or incorrect in your working, and then all of a sudden, everything makes sense. Then you often hear an ‘’aaaaaaahhhhhh okay now I get it!’’. In that split second, the students, almost every single time, pulls the lightbulb face. This is a face expression I rarely get to see outside of the classroom. Often witnessed in children only. The moment they realise they are able to do something they initially thought they couldn’t. Like the moment my daughter realized she knew how to unlock my mobile phone. Like the moment you, as a kid, found the secret draw full of sweets and chocolates that your mum tried so hard to hide. Like the moment you find cash in your jeans pocket you haven’t worn in a while. Like the moment you, as a teenager, realise your mum said yes you could go out this weekend when all week she was saying no. So you double take, to make sure the words matched her facial expressions, to ensure she wasn’t joking! Surely you’ve all been there?)

Anyway, I digress.

So back to my original point of willingly partaking in something you don’t particularly enjoy.
I work hard to get my students to genuinely like Maths (or at least not hate it). Obviously I cannot make all Maths lessons fun and games, but the aim is to build that want and need of Mathematical knowledge in the students. I find that the easiest way to do this is to work on building a relationship with my students. I work extremely hard on this. I am not too strict, nor am I too soft. I sway either direction depending on the class, student, activity or time of day. Although I do often start the year with a new class on the strict side. This is due to the common misconceptions students have of me due to my appearance. (Read ‘’My 1st day as a qualified teacher’’ to understand why).

Being a Secondary school teacher isn’t about passing on your subject knowledge in order for your students to get a good grade at the end of the year. If that’s the case, the low salary does match up to that standard. (I think that’s what non teachers believe that’s all we do). Being a teacher is about building up the skills and confidence in your students to be able to sit their exams and then use those transferable skills in order to be ready for the real world. The real world is far more important than those end of year exams. They will use those transferable skills you taught them in many different situations in life; In college where your teachers do not spoon feed you. In university where you are expected to be independent learners, excellent researchers and great at working with others whom are not part of your friend’s circle. Being a teacher means you are a mum before you even become a mum, even if it’s is just until 3.30pm. It means you having to let go of thinking you are actually a cool person (because let’s face it, no teacher is cool in the eyes of their students – even me). It means you’ll need the patience of an hour, watching yourself fade away as every second ticks by. It means you automatically become the referee, the coach and lines man, all at once. You are that unqualified psychologist that must be able to tell when something is ‘’up’’. You are that person they need to trust and rely on. That’s a big responsibility. But if you are able to understand all this, I can assure you, the fulfillment that you feel inside is indescribable.

In summary. I get my students to like Maths by building a relationship with them first. These are the secrets (hardly) I mentioned earlier.

Every single day, I try to make it my aim to implement the following;

*Leave your stress at the school gates and pick them up on your way home!

*Notice everything they do/have, and acknowledge it. Even if it’s just a new haircut.

*Find their strengths, guide it.

*Find their weaknesses, nurture it.

*Listen to their thoughts, remember them, and come back to it at a later time.

*Be aware of society and how they may be portrayed. Break that stereotype.

*Include the, billy no mates, quiet ones, and shy ones. When the confident and popular ones see them valued, they will in turn value them.

*Congratulate them, even for the smallest of things.

*Ask about their aims, dreams and aspirations. Note it down and get back to them with necessary info – Everyone needs guidance. 

*Respect them. You gain respect.

*Encourage them. They appreciate you.

*Thank them. They’ll thank you.

*Ask them. They’ll ask you.

*Be happy to see them. They’ll be happy to see you…..




6 thoughts on “Why my students like Maths

Add yours

  1. Beautiful- can’t wait for all your future posts
    Transferable to skills needed as a mother too
    That relationship you so nurturingly build is admirable Nabila – I hope my baby has teachers like you, and I can learn from the inspiring work you so eloquently exhibit

    Liked by 1 person

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