The voice saying no

This week I joined Atul Rana for #MathsChatLive with Mark McCourt, Rhiannon Rainbow and Matt Man. It was a fab discussion that led me to a realisation that often as an FE maths teacher I feel like I don't belong.

When I first started working with La Salle Education on their Tutor programme I was welcomed in wonderfully. That led me to presenting at a MathsConfMini online. Even sat in the orientation a big voice in my head was saying, this is for maths teachers and not for you. Yet I couldn't have been made to feel more welcome or included by the community. When there was a local meet up organised by La Salle I asked permission if I could join as I was in FE. Again the answer was yes and it was almost like it should never have been a question I was welcomed so much. I will just say there are other maths communities too that welcome me in but I thought these La Salle examples thread nicely.

Let's take it back to when I started teaching;

Secondary school teacher - felt like I belonged

Alternative provision teacher - almost felt like I belonged

FE teacher - really started to feel outside the maths teaching community.

Mark McCourt said on #MathsChatLive if you are involved in the teaching of maths, you belong. His words ringing I continued thinking about FE maths as a whole. We have a really strong FE maths community. Be it with individuals, through CfEM or our podcast EM Booth. We are fairly joined up. Twitter has significantly helped me with this and other communities too such as the brilliant #AmplifyFE and #JoyFE.

So is it that we, as FE maths, place ourselves outside the maths teaching community?

I don't think so. Loads of FE maths teachers have shared at maths community events. Brilliant human she is Julia Smith bridges across FE maths and the maths community really well. Emma Bell, also a brilliant human who does this, the list can go on and on. Perhaps it's because there are more secondary and primary maths teachers in comparison to FE maths teachers? Hmm? Don't think so.

So is it that we feel we don't teach proper maths?

Let me explain, we shoe horn a 2 year programme of study often into 1 year. All of this done on 2-3 hours of maths teaching a week. I'm not going to debate the whys and wrongs of the grade D policy in FE but there it is.

Is it that we teach maths differently?

When I think back to year 8 exploring coordinate geometry in my class it was a full 3-4 lessons of work. In my FE class it's possibly a starter. This is not because I care less about deepening their learning but that they have seen it before in most cases. In fact most of my students have sat GCSE maths before, it is a resit class. Not including those students new to the UK who often also have maths qualifications (as well) and may be studying to get UK recognised ones.

The stand out point from here for me is time for FE maths. I promised I wouldn't touch the grade D policy but it's ugly head looms over a lot of what we do. If you don't know FE here is an example of how it works.

You go to school, realise you really want to be a plumber. You get by in school and you leave with a grade 3 in maths. Job applications generally require a grade 4. You enrol at college to do plumbing. You really want to be a plumber. The law is that you have to resit maths until you get that grade 4 or turn 18. But you really want to be a plumber and all of your lessons are in plumbing apart from 2 hours a week where you have maths with the dance students. It's loud in maths and you don't know anyone. You used to study maths every day at school and now you have this one class and some homework. You really want to be a plumber and focus on that, you don't want to fall behind. Slowly without meaning to you've missed some maths classes because you had other priorities. You can see where this is going.

The mix of cohorts in maths classes is different in many colleges. It remains where I teach. The 2 hours a week is about the average I've had on my timetable in all my years in FE. Naturally students express passion for their chosen career path and main qualifications. Maths is an add on to that. It is very much important in terms of future life chances but it's often not yet important enough in the eyes of many young people who have a feeling of failure they carry also from school.

No one likes feeling like they have failed. In truth often students don't fail maths at school. The fact they got a 3 is a pass at the qualification. A grade U is an ungraded result and a fail. There are some students who join us on grade U but these are a minority. Yet someone somewhere thinks that the incredible hours of teaching by brilliant secondary colleagues can be bettered by an FE maths teacher on 2 hours a week. In my experience students need to have to want it to a whole other level than when they did at school. Which some do and it's wonderful.

So maybe it's the competition element that makes me feel like I don't belong?

Is it that I am meant to pitch myself against secondary colleagues. Position myself as better than them. That student you didn't get a grade 4 with, I am going to be better than you and get them to grade 4? Sounds awful, no thanks. Am I meant to blame secondary teachers for handing me so many grade 3 students? As though secondary education is lesser than FE? Ridiculous notion. Saying it clear, no sector is better than another, we are all in it for the same aim.

So I am no further on with why I had this feeling as to why don't feel that I belong. Mark McCourt said if you are involved in the teaching of maths, you are a member of the maths community. 

He means us FE, we are invited too.

How are you?

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