It’s all my fault!

I must like getting the blame, I guess. I’m studying chemistry, and chemicals are typically blamed for all the ills of modern society. I get involved with things like timetabling, which in others’ eyes, you can only ever do wrong, not right. And worst of all, I am a maths teacher.

There’s a news item on the Platform website which says that two researchers feel school maths teaching often amounts to “cognitive abuse”.

I’ve read the original research article linked, and while I would question whether what they’ve tried would be practical all the time in terms of timing,  I agree with an awful lot of what they say about mathematical resilience, and I’m sure it would repay detailed further study.

What seems singularly ill-judged in the article is the way they seem so keen to put teachers off reading it. Very early on, we get the off-the-cuff comments referring to “the dreadful state of mathematics teaching in England” (why thank-you, I do appreciate your input). Then there are allegations such as “currently mathematical resilience is not developed purposively”. Well, how do you know that then? Actually we have that as one of our key departmental focuses, thank-you very much.

I’m not going to sound off about resilience specifically now – it’s a pet theme of mine, but I was in that sort of territory last week. But it does bug me the way in which so many people are ready to blame their maths teachers – above, it seems, all other subjects – for their attainment in the subject. That’s exemplified by the load of comments on the article above, which are in the main from people blaming their own maths teachers.

Of course there are bad teachers of all subjects – like most people, I had some myself. But no teacher is right for everyone. I remember a class I took over in Year 10 a few years ago – two friends were sat together, and one of them made it pretty clear that she thought I couldn’t teach my way out of a paper bag, while the other one seemed to think I was god’s gift to maths teaching. Needless to say, I didn’t give up on the hostile one, and I think by the end of Year 11 she didn’t think I was quite as bad as all that. But no way would she have listed me as a good teacher, whereas her friend (and, I trust, others in the class!)  would.  Similarly, in a more recent Year 11 class, all except one either liked or didn’t mind maths, and over 70% of the class are now studying it in the sixth form, which suggests I maybe didn’t do too badly with them, but in the popular view, the one who disliked it can automatically blame her teacher.

Actually, this may be coming back to mathematical resilience – pupils want to “get” it first time, without the process, and if they don’t, guess whose fault it is?  I don’t think it’s just up to us in the maths department to build persistence and determination though. Those are pretty important qualities everywhere in life, and they can start at home.  Getting kids not to give up too easily,  emphasising that you learn by trying (and sometimes failing), and encouraging them to think what they can do to improve their understanding are key, and everyone in a kid’s life can contribute to that.

This entry was posted in Educational Developments, Maths and Science, Opinions. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to It’s all my fault!

  1. Sue Johnston-Wilder says:

    Hi Cath, It is great to read about your department developing mathematical resilience purposively and I would love to know more. Clare and I are always happy to learn of exceptions in the face of widespread maths helplessness. Our current model for developing mathematical resilience has 4 factors: growth belief; giving learners agency and resources; experience that maths is related to topics the learner values; and struggle/knowing what effort looks like when stuck. I would be interested to hear how your department has formulated mathematical resilience. We have found that parents often do not know where to start, and are often stuck with a ‘fixed’ belief in maths ( ‘I cant do it either’) so developing mathematical resilience at home may need the purposive input of aware teachers of mathematics.

  2. teacherposts says:

    Hi Sue, thanks for visiting the blog. I’m sure our department would be interested in further discussion of mathematical resilience – if it’s OK I’ll drop you an email at your Warwick address?

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