Why I’m not a teacher, part 2*

Me: ‘Right, let’s have a look at this maths homework. Oh, I see – it’s division.’ [Thinks: ‘Shit.’]

Seven-year-old son [grimacing]: ‘Hnnnnuuurrrrrrggghhhh.’

Me [deftly reinforcing the stereotype of maths as ‘boring’ and ‘really hard’]: ‘I know you don’t like maths; neither do I. But you have to do it. Look, if you do it without moaning, I’ll give you some dolly mixtures.’

[Son, perking up a little]: ‘Okay.’

Me [with infinite patience]: ‘Okay, how about this one – something, divided by five, equals 4. What’s the missing number?’

[Son shifts in his chair, jiggles, squirms.]

Me [with slightly less-than-infinite patience]: ‘Can you concentrate please? It’s important.’

Son: ‘I dunno. I dunno what the answer is.’

Me: ‘How do you do division at school?’

Son: ‘I. Don’t. Know.’

Me [trying to imagine what arcane methods teachers are using these days – hundred squares? Splitting numbers? Random hedgetrimming? Dale Winton equations? Spot the ones I made up.]: ‘Do you use counters? Or do you use times tables?’

[Son shrugs and does the sort of vibrating jiggle that he does when he’s stressed.]

Me: ‘Okaaaay, we’ll start with this one over the page instead.’ [Reads]: ‘In a Year 2 classroom, the children sit in groups of four. How many children are there altogether if there are seven groups?’ [Thinks: ‘Shit, words and numbers, this will make his brain bleed.’]

[Son stares at the wall.]

Me: ‘Okay, what do they want you to work out?’

Son [jiggling and vibrating]: ‘Don’t know.’

Me: ‘Read the question to me.’

[Son dutifully reads it out loud.]

Me: ‘So, what are they asking?’

Son [starting to panic slightly]: ‘Don’t know.’

Me [also starting to panic slightly]: ‘The children sit in groups of four. How many children are there altogether if there are seven groups?’ [Grasping desperately for a way to make this ‘fun’. Or at least easier.]: ‘Would it help if you drew it?’

Son: ‘Wha’?’

Me [having a flashback of Mr Portman rapping my knuckles with a ruler, really hard, for not knowing my 12 times table]: ‘Draw some desks. How many desks?’

Son [getting slightly tearful]: ‘Er, two? One?

Me [the last glimmer of hope I had that my child might have escaped the Not Waving family’s legendary pan-generational shitness at maths starting to fade like a sputtering candle:] ‘How many groups?! How many groups?! The answer’s in the question!’

Son [eyes spiralling wildly]: ‘Erm… erm… Seven?’

Me [elated, as if son has just split the atom]: ‘Yes! Yes!! Now, there are seven groups, and how many children in each group?’

Son [proudly, decisively]: ‘Three!’

Me [realising at last that Son won’t be sitting the bloody 11-plus after all, and will be going to the school up the road where 12 per cent of pupils got GCSEs last year, and where he will be beaten up daily for being crap at football, mega-weedy and running like a girl]: ‘Nooooooooooo!!!! Not three!! My God, you’re going to end up at a bad school, do you understand? A bad school!’

Son: ‘Boo-hoo!

Me: ‘There, there, have a dolly mixture.’ [Fast-forward into future to image of morbidly obese 30-year-old son trying to fill in his tax return, consoling himself for every miscalculation with yet another custard doughnut.]

I handled that well, don’t you think? Madame Smoking Gun and other home ed-ers, and teachers everywhere, I salute you.

* Part 1, if you’re interested, is here: https://notwavingbutironing.wordpress.com/2009/11/18/well-that-taught-me-a-lesson/

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39 Comments

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39 responses to “Why I’m not a teacher, part 2*

  1. I’m dreading the day the Maths homework comes out, think it might be one for his Daddy….

  2. I am struggling already, but the scary thing is I just asked Maxi both those sums and he did them in his head – he is four

    • notwavingbutironing

      Very Bored – I only wish I could do the same, but Mr Not Waving is similarly mathematically impaired. A double dose of dodgy genes for my boy…

      Mad House – ooh, that’s worrying. Maybe one day, he’ll be asking, ‘Mum, can you help me with my A-Level Further Maths homework?’ What’ll you do then, huh? Huh?

  3. Oh god I can relate to this post.

    I’ve no patience whatsoever. When faced with a child who can read the word ‘table’ perfectly easily on one page of his reading book, but for some reason cannot even make an attempt at it on the next page, I truly feel an urge to head-butt the nearest wall.

    ‘Come on, it’s not bloody rocket science’ is one of the worst things I’ve ever said to my eldest son, and that was when ‘helping’ with his homework.

    Will go and crawl back under my evil mother rock now…..

    • notwavingbutironing

      Thank you, Evil Queen Gappy, for sharing that with me. Back to your lair, now – there are fauns to be murdered and Eternal Winters to be conjured up. [Not Waving cackles, wraps her cloak around herself and vanishes in a puff of green smoke.]

  4. We read a book called The Gordon Star last week in which a boy tells his friend that since they can’t get add ten and eleven (or something) just using their hands they’d have to take off their socks and use their toes too. Son is now itching to try this in class so lets hope they’re taking maths very slowly in his school…

  5. Oh dear. Poor you. Poor son. I still remember my very kind and very clever father trying to explain sine and cosine with drawings of ladders against walls. I cried because I just didn’t see the point of it at all.

    • notwavingbutironing

      1 Husband, 2 kids: Brilliant, I’m going to try it myself. Might look a bit weird when I’m counting my change in Sainsbury’s, though.

      Lucille: There IS no point to sine and cosine – have you ever needed that information since? (I can’t actually remember a damn thing about it. Is it something to do with angles?)

  6. And this is why I believe homework should be banned – it’s a common rant of mine. I mean division, multiplication, you’d think these things wouldn’t change much over time yes? HA! I still have to get my 14yo to remind me “how you do division now” before I help him tackle algebraic formulae (which, thankfully, the bastards haven’t been able to fiddle with in the last 25 years).

    • notwavingbutironing

      Why do they change them? Why? Why?? The old methods still gave you the right answers. Some evil maths genius is behind all this…

  7. Do it WITH the dolly mixtures! With them! Dolly mixtures are not the rewards, they are the maths!

    (Same goes for cake, peas, orange slices, tinned peaches… dinner time sometimes takes a long time.)

  8. !!!!! Oh dear. Wiping my eyes. God, I relate to this one. I am a Teacher. For God’s sake. And yet I will have conversations with my children over homework JUST LIKE THIS POST. Mothers and homework just don’t work. Unless mothers are Saints. And am not one of those.
    BUT…. if your boy is struggling (putting on her teacher’s hat for a mo) then get things out for him to work with… four groups of seven (or whatever the HELL it was) then use loads of counters/smarties/pebbles, whatever you have round the house. It’ll work, because it sounds like he needs to see… might be a visual learner and they need to SEE this stuff.
    Right. Mother’s hat back on. Giggle. xxx

    • notwavingbutironing

      Thank you, Grit and Ladybird – some great advice, from Those In the Know. Part of the problem is that I’m so rubbish at maths that I can’t even think of ways to introduce it into everyday life, but I think dividing crisps, etc, is a good way to go. And yes, Ladybird, now you come to mention it, I think my probably son does learn visually. My sis (speech therapist) thinks he has a few language problems, so me wittering on endlessly probably doesn’t do much to help him. x

  9. What’s the problem? I WAS a teacher, and I often uttered the words ‘If you do it without moaning I’ll give you some Dolly Mixtures’. Or Haribos, chocolate, Midget Gems….In fact I often spent my lunchtimes in the toffee shop preparing for the afternoon’s lesson. Which is possibly why I am no longer a teacher…….

  10. Just had that exact evening here. The 7yo came home saying they had to learn the 2 Division fact up to 24. I tried to look really grown up and busy with dinner while she shoved 2÷2=1, 4÷2=2..etc. Dividing by half is okay but I’m already dreading division by three.

    I remember being in maths aged 14. I stuck my arm in the air and asked the nun what simultaneous equations were for. She told me I didn’t need to know what they were for……clearly she had no idea either…..certainly don’t need them in Tesco as far as I’m aware!

    • notwavingbutironing

      I actually looked up some 11-plus papers the other day (I know, I know) and I could barely answer a bloody thing. And those ‘finish the sequence’ thingies when they show you some shapes and you’re supposed to work out which shape comes next – waaaay beyond me.

  11. Does he really need to know? I mean does he? Like what’s it all FOR? I tried to explain this to my own maths teacher. ‘You only need to know this stuff so you can teach it to someone else so they can teach it to someone else!’ Got moved to the front to be kept an eye on.

    But I did find myself buying pertracters/potractors/p’trakt’rs and set squares the other day when I wanted to ‘do’ polygons or polygrams or…….fuck knows – I wanted to do SHAPES ok and I discovered you couldn’t draw equilateral triangles just by using squared paper and hoping 4 squares up would be the same as 4 across if it’s at an angle and FLASHBACK ohgodohgod THAT’S why I could never do this at school – ‘cos I didn’t give a fuck! All of a sudden I wanted to do it properly and it dawned on me that I actually had to do something with numbers and …oh sod it….I still don’t give a fuck……

    • notwavingbutironing

      I’m afraid you lost me at polygons, Madame. I don’t think we’d have been in the same maths class at school somehow.

  12. Every time I help one of my kids with their homework, I inwardly salute homeschoolers.

  13. Update: got out my PROtractors and compass and ruler and squared paper today to continue my POLYHEDRON (get me) experiments – and to find out precisely how many hexagons and pentagons make up a perfect football (‘cos I’m sooo down with the kids right) – carrying on from the conversation in the car the previous day when I’d dissed the football stadium sign for using all hexagons in their picture and guess what ……….. I laboured for bloody HOURS working out all the angles and doing straight lines and stuff and they spent the entire day in the garden making up intricate fighting games on the old mattresses. This is the real truth about home education: they simply have better things to do than fuck about with maths.

    I, meanwhile, with a shoeboxful of coloured polygons, have rekindled my desire to start a quilt. All hail the birth of another unfinished project.

    • notwavingbutironing

      Am VERY, VERY impressed. Please come round and teach me to wire a plug. Seriously.
      As for the fighting, I guess in terms of human evolution, it’s a much more useful skill than knowing the angles in a polyhedron. Although a pair of compasses might come in handy if you were attacked by a predator. Oh, what am I wittering about? It must be time to put myself to bed.

  14. Oh this was so funny it made my teeth ache, I smiled so wide. I have similar conversations with my 6 year old. All this homework. It’s so bloody stressful. I had to take my maths gce twice and only scraped a pass the 2nd time around. My boys are doomed…doomed I tell you. Maybe they can be mates at the bad school together??

    • notwavingbutironing

      Thanks, Nicola, glad it’s not just me. Talking of genetic legacies, did I mention I’m also really crap at science? And I have really short legs and wispy hair, which I seem to have passed on to my daughter? And I’m also a carrier of the ‘seriously uncool’ gene, so your son might not want to mates with mine after all.

  15. myf

    this is very funny, so funny, i can see poor said boy and you going through this. i am dreading year 2 homework as it must be equivalent of 12th grade in canada.

    • notwavingbutironing

      Are you saying the education system in Canada is crap? C’mon, it can’t be – it produced Keanu Reeves!

  16. I just had to update some more: in WHSmiths today I got excited when I saw a protractor and folding/moveable ruler in one! Yes I did say I got EXCITED! And I bought it. And another compass ‘cos the super -cheap ones I’d bought last week aren’t hard-core enough. And HB and B pencils – what is going on? (Drew the line – pardon the very bad pun – at H pencils. Those are for nerdy technical drawing people. Not wild and 6B me.)

    What is going on? I used to get excited at pointy ankle boots with instant death stiletoes and now I’m checking out the point of a compass and tutting.

    Think I should be checking out the point of my existence.

    • notwavingbutironing

      The saddest moment of my entire life was when my I bought a retractable washing line from Argos, and when I was hanging out my washing that afternoon, I realised I WAS BEAMING. I actually caught myself mid-beam.
      I’m going to go and drown myself now in a Yardley Lily of the Valley bubble bath…

  17. I turn back to admire my white washing on the line(s) – often twice – before I disappear indoors. The colours just don’t have the same impact somehow. A beautiful line of whites – arranged in wide-at-the-top then wide-at-the-bottom then wide-at-the-top anal dovetail perfection is the height of achievement for me. ‘Sad’ doesn’t cover it.

    Shame I never get the washing in again for several days – by which time it’s acid-rain buggered and needs washing again – which it doesn’t get. What AM I going on about? This blog lark is way too revealing. I could have been someone!

    • notwavingbutironing

      It’s not sad at all – the washing line is the poor woman’s bunting. No Cath Kidston decorations for us – we just stare out of the window at our flapping laundry. Aye. Simple folk, you and I.

  18. I really shouldn’t have read that. You’ve made me wonder why I persist in my job – I’m a maths teacher!!

    Good to meet you btw; came via “1 husband, 2 kids (and lots of books)”. I think I will return!

    • notwavingbutironing

      You’re doing all the good work at school, Working Mum, and people like me are blowing it all when the kids get home. See what you’re up against? You’ll never make those targets now!
      Sorry ’bout that.

  19. Just reading this about sshhh….whisper it….maths gives me the shudders. My 10 year old has long surpassed me in the maths stakes. I glaze over. My solution? His Dad does it with him.

    I drew a very good picture of a packer of polo mints on my desk during my maths ‘o’ level.

  20. notwavingbutironing

    Good work, Deer Baby. Art comes before numeracy. Being able to draw polos will get you out of many a scrape. x

  21. i love this post i’m thrilled that i’m not alone in being rubbish at maths and a shorttempered witch with my 10year old during maths homework! I usually try and wait for daddy! Bugger feminism and equality – he’smuch more numerate! Nice to meet you – I’ll come back!

  22. The Sewist

    I have a confession: I love maths. I used to teach maths to adults who hated maths and even they got infected with the love.

    Homework on the other hand is the work of the devil and should not under any circumstances leave the cage that we call school.

    If you actually confront any teacher in any school and tell them that you think maths homework is crap and a waste of time they will agree with you. Once you have led them to reveal this weakness, exploit it and cut a deal to relieve your family of ever having to do maths homework ever again. Use your imagination… or just say that you won’t be doing it and face the (non existent) consequences.

    Then just carry on as before: counting out cutlery when you lay the table, measuring how tall everyone is on the door frame and counting small change to see if you can afford to buy a comic/some bread/some gin, or not.

    • notwavingbutironing

      I can honestly see how a person could love maths. I just don’t think my brain is wired in that way. Look, I’m doing it again! Negative thinking about maths! Anyway, thanks for the tips on getting out of homework – always welcome.

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