“This school is local to me which is very convenient, although I never expected to get a job here. I used to be a governor of a senior school, a long time ago, so I knew education from a distance. My previous job was working in IT education for adults, so for 10 years I ran my own business as a computer trainer, so I’m used to standing up in front of groups of adults, so of them were the computer users, but I went all the way up to boards of directors and CEO level. I taught them software, IT implementation and all about the benefits to business. My background is as an engineer, rather than pure mathematics and I graduated 20 years ago. I trained as an electronic engineer, did a lot of maths as part of my degrees, then had an electronics career that’s moved into computers as Windows took off. The reason I’m here is because I’ve worked a lot in the community with young people and I’ve always had an interest in ‘applied mathematics’. That’s a key phrase of mine. I don’t want to teach anybody the theory of maths, I want to teach how relevant maths is to everyday life. Some of my students probably get fed up with me talking about what we’re going to do with maths – not just learning it because we’ve got to pass an exam, but because it’s actually very relevant in everyday life, whether you’re running a business or doing some DIY at home. One of my passions as a teacher is to communicate that maths is important and relevant and to challenge the negative stereotype that a lot of students and parents have about maths and its perceived irrelevance to life.
“We have a lot of students, as you can imagine, whose parents say, “I’m no good at maths, but it doesn’t matter.” They’ve given up on maths as some hard, impossible subject, so my job is to change that perception and change the focus of why we’re learning stuff in the first place. So my classroom is a little different to most maths rooms, in that I’ve decorated it with things that maths enables us to achieve, so we’ve got Xboxes and games consoles, toys, transport, artefacts that went to the moon, typewriters from the second world war, just to show that maths enables the mechanics and the electronics of these things to happen. On the back wall we have various bits to do with transport: cars, engineering, aeroplanes – all things that we now take for granted, but maths makes it all possible, which is the phrase that I use all the time. Everybody comes in and says “why have you got a bike on the wall?”. Well, that’s because without maths, the gears don’t work, the steering doesn’t work and that’s not a particularly high level, olympic type bike, it’s just a mountain bike that these guys would be riding in their spare time. So what I’m trying to do is just explain that maths makes it all possible and most inventions that we’re all used to, from microwaves to iPods, have huge amounts of maths behind them.
“Hopefully, slowly but surely, it changes the message of maths to make it purposeful, so they have a reason to pay attention and a reason to learn it, because a lot of the kids want to work in the computer game industry. They just assume that they won’t need maths, but of course anything to do with computers is hugely mathematical and, even if we’re teaching them problem solving or pattern recognition, it’s still very relevant in a lot of careers.
“I got to the point where I really wanted a career change and because I’d done a lot of community work and work with young people, friends that I talked to suggested teaching. I used to voluntary work with six local primary schools years ago, partly to help with maths, partly to help with assemblies, so I considered both primary and secondary schools. I chose secondary because I really enjoy steering young people as they grow into young adults. I get a quite a buzz out of helping them to understand their decisions and their choices in life and enjoy those teenage years. My year sevens are still children at 11 years old, then you’ve got these big guys at 16 years old. It’s a privilege to steer them towards a career that they enjoy or towards different values in life which, again, they enjoy, rather than hating life or hating their career. so that’s why I chose secondary school teaching. With my engineering and IT background there were a number of subjects that I could have taught but I really felt that maths was something that I wanted to get involved in, because I’ve seen the application of it in real life and therefore I wanted to change that negative perception of it.
“I live in Gloucestershire so I started out by looking at the local offerings and friends in the education sector told me GITEP was highly recommended by lots of schools in Gloucestershire and I’d seen some of their banners on various schools at certain times of the year. I did a lot of research online to find out about them, went to an open morning to understand the process, the costs and the expectations – all the practicalities of training as a teacher. I’m married with 3 children and a mortgage, so I wanted to know if I could afford to retrain as teacher. GITEP explained that certain subjects attract a bursary from the government that enable you to live while you train. That’s what made it possible, otherwise we wouldn’t have managed. GITEP were very friendly and approachable and happy to answer all of my questions, both at open days and over the phone. I applied to Worcester University as well as Gloucestershire University. I was offered a place at both but chose Gloucestershire Uni, partly because it was closer, but mostly because of the relationship with GITEP. That meant also that my school placements were fairly close to home, so it was very practical.
“There are moments when pennies drop and a student says, “ah, I get it now!”. That’s nice to hear. The year Elevens will be taking their GCSEs next summer, so with them I find that I’m re-teaching some things with a different slant, and it’s nice to see them looking at it completely differently and taking it in. Their brains are obviously different to when they were in year 8, they’re able to retain more and because I put a big focus on the application of maths I think that helps the pennies to drop a little bit more. I made some videos of myself doing some DIY over the half term and edited them down to one minute long problems for the students to solve, such as calculations of cost, materials required, time required, etc. They raise a smile but also put a real life element to the theory, giving them a real connection to life, rather than just learning to pass an exam, which is not what I want to do and it’s certainly not what we do here at Dene Magna. We don’t want to just get students through a conveyor belt of exams, we want to prepare them for life, a career and wherever they want to go next – college, sixth form, apprenticeships, whatever.
“GITEP have been great, very supportive all the way. I assumed that I was going to be the oldest on the course and that everybody else would be graduates in their early twenties. Some of them are, but I wasn’t the oldest. The difference is that I bring a lot of real life and work experience, stories about VAT, how to make a profit, work out costs etc. We did budgets last week, which isn’t strictly part of the curriculum, but my students were talking about moving out of home, so I decided to teach them about all the things they’d need to cover: food costs, rent, National Insurance, Income tax, etc. They actually fund it very useful. It’s something they’ll probably never get tested on, but my job isn’t to just get them through a test or an exam, I want them to be prepared for life and be ready to face a whole load of mathematical problems fearlessly.
“I don’t see why they shouldn’t have aspirations and go far – I’m more than happy to fan the flames of their aspirations. Dene Magna is a lovely school and I feel very fortunate to have been offered a job here. The girls school in Gloucester where I did some of my training was great too, but a completely different environment, so I’m glad I had the variety.”