It’s time for my next instalment of Lessons From the Classroom, and it’s a beefy one. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that maths was never my strong point. Today, I’m delving into all of those repressed memories of that little wonky-toothed bespectacled child who never quite understood anything beyond basic adding and subtraction. It’s quite the emotional rollercoaster, but I hope you find it entertaining at the very least!
The Early Years
It’s safe to say I hated maths from an early age. While I was annoyingly good at reading and writing, I majorly fucked up in the maths department. I could do basic adding and subtraction, but anything more than that my little brain would fry. In primary school, I would more often than not get severe butterflies before we started a maths lesson, and I remember multiple occasions where I’d cry because the idea of maths was genuinely giving me a tummy ache (yes, I was one of those kids). I remember particularly in Year 2 (for those who didn’t grow up in the UK, this is around the age of 6 to 7), we were given these workbooks, and each of them had animals on the cover. Each animal represented a different difficulty level – there’d be a ladybird, a fish, a kingfisher (wtf) and a load of others that I can’t really remember. What I do remember though, is that the kingfisher was the one to aim for, and the ladybird was a lower level. I know that because I was stuck on it for what felt like forever. I distinctly remember spending what felt like weeks on just one page because I didn’t know the answer to a particular question (in reality I think it was more like a few days, but you know how time goes ridiculously slowly when you’re a child). Every other kid on my table was moving onto the kingfisher book, while I remained on that bloody ladybird one.
Eventually, one of the other kids gave me the answer, and I was shitting myself as I took my book up to the teacher, where she marked it and moved me onto the kingfisher book. One thing that I look back on is why the fuck didn’t Mrs T (she was a full on bitch to be honest and made me cry on multiple occasions), check how I was doing? Surely, if a kid is stuck on the last page of a workbook for days, the decent thing would be to just pop over? I guess it’s my own fault to be honest, had I just put my hand up and asked for help she probably would have. However, she was, as I said, a mega bitch – to the point where on one occasion she threw my work at me because she thought I was copying someone else’s.
Side note – I wasn’t. I was one of those kids that was shit scared of being told off for anything – hence why I never asked for help on that bastard ladybird book. I was scared Mrs T would shout at me for not understanding how numbers work. Basically, I remember the throwing incident well – there was another girl called Amy in my class, and she was the one who was allegedly copying. Some tattle-tale little shit told Mrs T that “Amy was copying” another kid’s work. At this point I was in the line eagerly clutching my exercise book to get it marked, and Mrs T immediately jumped to the conclusion I was the one copying and threw the book at me, refusing to mark it. Of course, me being the little wet blanket I was, instead of telling her it wasn’t me, I sheepishly picked up my book and took it back to the table. Then I had a little toilet cry at lunchtime. Ah, mastering the toilet cry from an early age.
As we went into Key Stage 2, maths sets became a thing. Of course, I was in the lower one, but actually, it wasn’t too bad. While I wasn’t with my friends, the maths was at a level I could actually understand – it didn’t magically excel in it, but I didn’t get the stomach aches as badly as I used to. So that was something. I still never quite got to the point of asking for help when I was stuck, I just had to cross my fingers and hope that a teacher would notice – which, most of the time, they did in the end. Thankfully. Luckily the teachers I had in the later years of primary school were much more patient and a lot kinder than what Mrs T was – I dread to think what would have happened if she was still my teacher.
The Secondary School Years
In secondary school, maths sets were a lot more complicated – there were six of the buggers across the year group. I started off in the third set – so middle ground – and this wasn’t too bad, although we had three teachers, two out of whom were awful. Great start. Thankfully, the one teacher we had that actually knew what she was doing (Mrs P), was actually really lovely and explained stuff in a way I could actually understand, to the point where I was actually moved up to the second set for Year 8.
Year 8 was the year that I suddenly started to get a grasp on maths, and that was all thanks to Ms A. The other kids in my group didn’t really like her, because she had quite a short fuse, but for a goodie-two shoes like me, I wasn’t bothered. She was so good at explaining stuff, to the point where I could understand algebra, multiplying fractions, and all of that other useless crap I’ve never actually applied to my day to day life.
While I can’t say I was enjoying maths, I certainly didn’t want to cry every time I saw it on my timetable for the day, and that was something. I felt so much more confident with it, and in my Year 9 mock SATs, I ended up getting a “level 6.” That was my highest grade EVER in maths and I was buzzing. Not only that, but because I’d done so well, I was moved into the top set.
Even though it was short-lived AF, moving up into the top set was actually one of my proudest achievements. For someone like me, that was shit scared of asking for help and had absolutely zero confidence with maths, being transferred to the top set was something that never felt possible.
Top Set Maths
Moving into top set maths was so exciting – most of my friends were in top set, so I loved being in the same lessons as them. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get on with Mr L’s teaching. At this point, he was a fairly new teacher, so it was almost like no one had any respect for him (classic at our school to be fair – supply teachers and new teachers always got the shitty end of the stick). By the time we were in sixth form, he was ridiculously popular, so he definitely found his feet.
After a couple of weeks in the top set (and my reluctance to ask for help settling back in), it soon became apparent to me that I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. But I was in the top set! I didn’t want to lose that. I felt as though I shouldn’t be asking for help if I was in the top set either, which of course, that’s not the case. I managed the day-to-day stuff with the help of my friends who were in that same group, but when it came to homework, there was a lot of crying and shouting at my Mum “I DON’T FUCKING GET IT” (at 14, I was still a sweary little bugger).
For some insane reason, I coasted through the rest of year 9 in the top set, very rapidly realising I was out of my depth. When it eventually got to our SATs tests, I crashed and burned, getting a level 4. Not ideal, and not my best idea to keep my mouth shut the entire time.
Back in the Comfort Zone
As a result of my disastrous SATs results, I was put back a level into my comfort zone of the second set when we moved into Year 10. I liked the second set. I knew what I was doing. Plus, I was back under the teaching of Ms A. I knew her teaching methods and I knew her, so being back with a familiar face meant I was a little bit more confident when it came to asking for help. Not loads, but a bit. Plus, I was seated next to my friends – not in the way where you’re always distracted and hardly do any work, either – we all sort of helped each other.
There’s no denying that I was shitting myself when it came to the GCSE exams. I did moderately well in mock papers, but there was no denying that maths still wasn’t my strong point. Algebra and fractions could especially sod off. As much as I desperately wanted to be like Cady in Mean Girls, loving maths because it was the same wherever you go, that was not the case. Maths is indeed the same wherever you go, but that’s only if it constantly makes you cry your eyes out and scream at your mother that you’re stupid because you can’t do algebra. In Year 11, we started on GCSE statistics, which, actually, wasn’t that bad. I was slightly better at it (if only that was the case when I went to university…), and it caused me less emotional distress than maths in general, so I didn’t suffer from anxiety attacks before lessons.
There is a happy ending at the end of it all though – I finished my GCSEs with a C in maths and a B in statistics. To be honest, I was over the moon that I got a C. If you had told me all those years ago that I would actually pass my maths GCSE, I’d have cried and told you to stop lying to me. I mean, there were still people in my year who were dancing around with their As and their A*s, but I was BUZZING with my B and C. And, even better, I got to drop it all for sixth form!
- ASK FOR HELP. IT’S WHAT THE TEACHERS ARE THERE FOR.
- Be proud of your achievements.
- Bitchy teachers will get their comeuppance. Mrs T fell flat on her face outside the venue during a rehearsal for our nativity. We were all told not to laugh but looking back, how a bunch of 6 year olds managed that, I’ll never know.
- Fractions and algebra generally don’t mean anything in adult life. You need to know more about mortgages, student loans, interest rates and taxes, but they don’t teach you any of that.
- Just because you’re crap at maths, it doesn’t mean you’re stupid.
So, there you have it – the school trauma that was maths. Aside from PE, it was one lesson that generally filled me with severe dread, and I cannot emphasise enough how happy I was when I got to drop it as I went into sixth form. I feel like the fact I was so terrible at it was largely my fault, because I was always too scared to ask for help. However, at the same time, I sometimes think maybe the teachers should have picked up on it? I don’t know. All I can say is that I pity the day when I have kids who need help with their maths homework. Meh, that can be Liam’s job.