Behind the Mathematician continues in its quest to publicise the best maths teachers out there. This week the feature contributor is Stephen Cavadino, the man behind cavmaths and one of the most prolific bloggers out there. Whether it’s on the reasons for being a teacher or some ideas on the use of puzzles in the classroom, Stephen’s insight is as valuable as it is comprehensive.
Oh, and anyone who knows the travails of being a parent of a (very) young ‘un and trying to make a real difference in maths teaching deserves a thumbs up from me. Enjoy!
What is your name/alias?
Stephen Cavadino, @srcav
What is your role?
How would you describe your teaching style?
I’m not sure I have a specific style, so perhaps the correct answer would be “varied”. I believe that different classes need to be taught in different ways, and that different topics need to be taught in different ways also. There is no “one size fits all” lesson style that will provide the golden ticket to learners’ progress. Which itself implies that the grading of a solitary lesson is silly.
What made you become involved in Maths education?
I’ve always loved the subject. I studied it at A Level and Higher Education. Teaching has always been a long term goal of mine too. When I left University I didn’t go into it straight away, instead I took a number of jobs, including Bar Work and Office work. After a while I returned to University to postgraduate study. I then returned to the world of work where I was involved with Children’s Services at Local Authority level. I enjoyed this, but the more I did there the more I felt I wanted to be on the “frontline”, as it were, and so I went back to University again to do a PGCE. You can read more here.
Beyond your main role, what other projects/work are you involved in?
I write a blog, Cavmaths, which I find to be a good place to reflect and discuss ideas. We’re early adopters of the core maths qualification, so that’s something that’s been an interesting whirlwind, and I’m currently looking at implementing a mastery curriculum in our school.
What do you enjoy about your career?
I enjoy the vast majority of what I do, I recently wrote two posts on the subject (Teaching and 5 reasons to go into teaching) and I think that a lot of people spend too long focusing in the perceived negatives rather than embracing the positives.
What do you think are the main challenges that maths teachers face?
Maths teachers face many challenges. There is a lack of maths teachers, which is itself a massive problem and can lead to teachers of other subject having to teach maths. This isn’t ideal and can mean that pupils go trough school with no one noticing major misconceptions until it’s too late. This is a problem exacerbated by the negative pedal in some aspects of the press, such as the secret teacher column, which must put may prospective teachers off.
Another massive problem we face is the fact that so many people say things like “I was never any good a maths,” or “I never understood algebra.” This leads young people to think its ok to be rubbish at the subject and some try to use this to opt out “my dad said he couldn’t do algebra, so I won’t be able to, he’s loads cleverer than me.” Or “Miss so-and-so said she can’t do algebra and she’s head of English!” Bruno Reddy (@mrreddymaths) is working hard to try and combat this problem nationally.
What advice do you have for people just starting out in Maths education, or who would like to become involved?
For those just starting out I’d say this. Don’t personalise it. Teenagers are balls of emotion and sometimes will blow up at whoever’s nearest. Don’t take things as a personal attack. Enjoy your time in the classroom and be yourself. Teaching is built on relationships, and if you allow your students to see a bit of the real you, then you will benefit from that. If anyone tells you “don’t smile ‘til Christmas” ignore them, it’s a strange person who can go that long without smiling but keep their sanity.
For those thinking about it: “What are you waiting for?! Hurry up already.”
What tools/resources do you use to help you in your work?
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
“Be yourself more. Ring your personality through.”