Dramatis persona*

helenhead Helen Chick

I've always wanted a bumper sticker that said "I'm a female, LDS/Mormon, Scout leading, geocaching, piano-playing, bicycling, mathematics educator with a PhD in maths ... and I VOTE"!

I think this makes me a minority group of cardinality 1!

* Since there's only one of me and "personae" is plural (I think), I've gone with dramatis persona.
December 2022
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Teaching numbers

We farewelled some of our students yesterday—students who are finishing their four-year Bachelor of Education program and who are about to embark on careers as primary school teachers. I was asked to say a few words at their farewell function, and although I wanted perhaps a little sentimentality, being me I also wanted to do something a bit witty … and with some maths thrown in for good measure. So I promised them their final class on numbers—with no exam—and began with negative numbers …

-3 This probably only applies if you go to a nice country school. It’s the temperature outside as you make your way to work in the middle of winter on a cold and frosty morning.
0 This is, I hope, the number of kids who throw up on your first day.
0.9 This is the probability that there will be some kid who throws up during your first year of teaching. Just in case you can’t remember what you learned about probability 0.9 means that it is “HIGHLY LIKELY”.
0.15 Now, you all remember from your work on decimals that even though many kids think 0.15 is bigger than 0.9 it is in fact LESS than 0.9 … and is the probability that someone will offer to help you clean up when that kid I just mentioned throws up.
1 There’s always ONE in EVERY class. “One WHAT?” I hear you ask. Well, it will vary from day to day. One annoying little grizzler, one class comedian, one hypochondriac, one angelic little cherub, one who always forgets her lunch/pen/hanky, one you’d like to strangle, one you’d like to protect from the whole world, one who seems as if he’ll never learn to ________ … and then he does.
60 The intended class size for primary schools in Malawi, but in fact the classes are often much bigger, even up to 100 or more students. With this in mind, maybe a class of 25 – 30 little darlings doesn’t sound so bad.
4.3 The average number of years it took this cohort to complete the BEd.
12 The number of weeks of holiday you will get. Enjoy them, and just remember that it’s THREE TIMES what we get DESPITE what you think we’re doing over the mid-year break and summer*.
2 You are likely to have twins in your class or school at some stage. You will need to find some sure-fire strategy to tell them apart fast.
3.1415926… I had to get &#960 in somehow. Don’t forget, when you are talking about circles don’t just say they’re “round”; you have to talk about PROPERTIES, like centre and equidistant from the centre.
91 The number of decibels of sound that your class will sound like it’s making some afternoons.
97 The number of decibels of sound that you would like to be able to make on some afternoons (not that it’s likely to help much).
105 The average height of a prep child in centimetres. Do NOT tread on them, even when they get underfoot.
40 This is the weight of a 12 year old in kilograms, which is one of many good reasons for not allowing Grade 6 kids to sit on your lap.
224 This is the number of tissues in a tissue box. You will need this many each week during winter when snuffling noses start to drive you nuts.
24/7 The number of hours in a day and days in a week.
33/9 There will be occasions when this will be the number of hours in a day and days in a week that you WISHED you had.
x x is unknown. It is the number of kids you will work with over your teaching career. It is the number of kids that you have the capacity to influence, guide, inspire, respect, teach, empower, care about, motivate, educate, and help make wise. Make the most of it, and may teaching bring you a great sense of purpose and achievement.

The talk seemed to go well, which is why I thought it might be worth posting here.

It’s that last point that is hardest to quantify, because it’s not just about x (the number of kids) but also about the depth and intensity of your influence. Yet this is also the most rewarding aspect of teaching: knowing you might be making a real difference to some student. There was another farewell function today for a different cohort of students, and quite a few of them came up to me and thanked me for helping them to understand and appreciate mathematics and how to teach it, especially since some of them acknowledged that they had really struggled with it in the past.

Them’s the warm fuzzies that make it all worthwhile.

* For better or worse, our students really only see the in-their-faces aspects of our teaching work, and do not understand all the other facets of our jobs, such as research, writing papers, preparation, professional development, other courses we teach, research students, and so on. At the end of semester I often hear a blithe comment like “Have a nice holiday” which I am sure is well-meant … and so I smile (with a hint of gritted teeth?!)), and go back to marking, data analysis, editing, etc. By talking about 12, though, I thought I might try to educate them a little!

2 comments to Teaching numbers

  • Linda

    How inspirational! You should publish this. But you should also consider Y – the number of students ‘you will work with over your teaching career. It is the number of kids that you have the capacity to influence, guide, inspire, respect, teach, empower, care about, motivate, educate, and help make wise.’ – It is the number of student teachers you have sent out to do the same thing to countless generations of kids, in the spirit you so beautifully set out here.

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