My Secondary school maths teacher knew the value of setting work that was relevant to his students needs. Yes we did have a book, a very large book filled with hundreds and hundreds of questions and problems to solve. But he chose which questions we would answer according to our ability and interest.
Those students who seemed less able or less interested, were only required to answer the questions at the beginning of the chapter. These were mostly repetitious and required only simple reasoning to solve.
The next level of questions were more demanding and required multiple skills to solve. I was glad to be amongst the students who were given the most challenging problems.
The fact that he would automatically issue me and a few of my classmates with the juiciest problems in the book and said that we did not need to chew our way through repetitive exercises, encouraged me to think that I was good at Mathematics.
I dived into those problems using all my skills in Mathematics to solve them.
I also recall that he would allow us to work in small groups, dividing up the chapter between us so that we would get all the questions answered. Some classmates in the group would tackle the easier questions at the beginning of the chapter whilst I and my ‘anointed few’ got on with the real work.
I felt that I had earned this position, and I was determined to keep it. I was aware that several other students in the class were also capable in Mathematics, and it was my job to make sure that I was more capable than they were.
On occasion, the Maths teacher would be called on to deal with an issue outside the classroom. The fact that he had already divided the class into groups, and the groups were dividing the work according to their ability and interest, we knew what to do. Strangely enough, we needed less help when he was not in the room.
I suspect that he knew this, and perhaps the issue that was being solved outside the room was in fact a smoke break, or a coffee break. Either way he did a good job as a teacher in convincing me that I could teach myself, and my classmates and that I was an excellent Mathematician.
And I suspect that I learned more about teaching a class from this Maths teacher than any other teacher when I was learning to teach.
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