It’s been a while since I had a regular classroom commitment. I’ve always thought that senior leaders suffer from an authenticity failure when they are divorced from teaching. But that’s another story, to be told another time. And to cut that long story short, this term I am teaching a group of seven year 6 children. Maths. For just one hour a day.

I am ‘boosting’.

Here’s what it says in the dictionary about boosting.
boosting: the yearly panic that primary schools go through to ensure they meet their yearly quota of successful students.But this is more than a SATs game. Putting my cynicism aside, each of the seven children in my group have a unique perspective on maths. And it’s a perspective skewed by failure.

Now I know that these days it’s cool to fail. Fail: first attempt in learning, chant the students to me. But not when you’ve failed week after week. Not when you’ve been the last to ‘get it’ lesson after lesson. Not when you’re at the bottom of the achievement rocket year after year.

The children's maths weakness: concentration, telling the time, embarrassment
What the children told me gets them down about maths

My seven Year 6 students are old enough to be embarrassed by their inability to do maths that children four years younger than them can do. They can’t tell the time. They don’t know their times tables. They can’t reliably count on or back. And what’s worse, they can all tell me stories of embarrassment, when their failure to do what their peers find simple has been exposed to the rest of their class.

Embarrassment and repeated failure make a powerful poison that taints the waters of learning. And the antidote to that poison is more than mere boosting. If all I do over the next four months is ‘get these children through their SATs’, I will have failed them. They don’t need my tricks and tips to score the best they can on some 45 minute exam papers in May. They need me to teach them well. They need some core knowledge and some confidence.

So as it turns out, I am not going to be boosting after all.

I’m going to be a ‘remedial teacher.’

I know that sounds awfully old-fashioned, but there are some reasons why I prefer that term. I see their lack of knowledge akin to a sickness and the remedy is good teaching. Each of these children has unique reasons for why they are ‘below national average’ in maths. Whilst I can’t remedy all of the reasons, for some I can do the following:

  1. diagnose the ailment;
  2. identify a treat;
  3. present a cure;
  4. give time for that cure to take hold.

I suppose I could label the same 4 point sequence like this:

  1. identify misconceptions
  2. plan some good lessons
  3. teach well
  4. allow children time to practice so that their confidence grows.

The majority of my posting this term is going to be about the journey with these children.