Friday, 25 February 2011


“I could have cried Alice”, she said, pouring a hefty slug of chilled white wine into one of my nicer glasses, “I mean, really cried”. I wanted to be sympathetic. I wanted to share the bottle, put my feet up and agree, that yes, all men are bastards. Thing is, not only did Hubby rise to the occasion and pre-order me a personalised Valentine card from, but I honestly haven’t got time to ponder the misgivings of thoughtless husbands. So, whilst poor Mags described her mortification on receiving, with great excitement, an enormous box of flowers from the postman, only to realise they were for the woman next door, I chewed my pencil and intermittently made sympathetic noises.
I was concentrating hard. I raked my fingers through my hair and bit the rubber off my pencil, jumping feet into the air as though electrocuted because the metal underneath had made contact with my fillings.
“Bloody hell”, I winced, rubbing my jaw.
“You can say that again”, added Mags. I’d forgotten she was there. I had hoped that, had she not been given the attention she craved, that she’d have downed her wine and gone home, unfortunately she was still tamping mad with her husband’s floral disappointment, so she stayed put to help. The point is, unless you are maths teacher trained to work with students with special needs you can’t assist me because I only respond to specialist help. In the end, I just had to be blunt.
“Mags, my love and dearest, bestest friend, whilst I fully sympathise, nay empathise with your disenchantment in the male species, I have a maths test in a couple of days time. You know as well as anyone how utterly useless I am at it and yet I have to pass this ruddy test or alas, no matter how hard I work at teaching and planning and assessments, targets, behaviour management, global dimension and safeguarding of the little darlings, I will not qualify. Therefore, I need you to go home that I may give changing decimals into percentages my utter devotion”.
“Well, if that’s how you feel”, she said, sticking her chin rather defiantly into the air, “Then I won’t hinder you another second”.
“Mags love”, I soothed, “Please don’t take umbrage, but it’s ok for you and Hubby and all the youngsters on my course who can simplify to the lowest common denominator with impunity. Trouble is, I never got it when I was five and I still don’t get it now I’m forty five”.
“Well what’s so hard?” she asked, adjusting her pashmina.
“All of it Mags, all of it”. I’d resorted to raking my hair again. And, like all those before her who have absolutely no grasp on what it is to be numerically challenged, she kissed me before airily adding, “Oh you’ll be fine”.
The door shut and once again I turned my attention to my book: QTS Numeracy Test, Pass First Time. I’ve been having private tuition since September by a local maths teacher and in fairness to the lad, he has been patient, kind and has enlightened me on many aspects of previously, nightmare inducing sums and yet, processing certain aspects of arithmetic, eludes me still. To genuinely struggle with a subject that most people can do on two hands, literally, is a horrible feeling. It makes me feel dumb and stupid, not helped by having often been the butt of jokes. Some so called friends have found it a spectator sport to goad me by throwing unreservedly random problems in my general direction. I have sat at dinner tables or in bars when the topic of my apparently hilarious handicap has reared its mortifying head and the company therein have found it highly entertaining to shout, “Go on Alice, what’s seven times eight; what’s eight times nine?” and I’ve had to mentally trawl through my tables searching for the correct answer.
“What’s twenty three per cent of seventy three?”, they titter, knowing I have no capacity whatsoever for finding the correct answer.
“Um”, I start, “Well, 20% would be, um, let me see, er..” They give up on me at this point, smug in their consensus of opinion that the woman in their midst is a thicky. Do you know what really gets my craw? Were I dyslexic they wouldn’t be half so cruel. I very much doubt they’d throw multisyllabic words at me and wait for me to stutter and stumble. They would never chuck a book at me demanding, “Go on, read it”. Why then is it ok to take mick out of my maths?
I’ve brought the subject up at Uni and all they can do is wave at me dismissively and advocate practise. It’s frustrating to say the least. Surely they want me to pass my course? They are helping a fellow student with dyslexia and what really cheeses me off is not the fact that he gets extra time to sit the literacy test but the fact that he gets recognition. I’ve heard staff speak to him in muted, gentle tones, offering all manner of ‘extra sessions and coping mechanisms’.
It could of course be argued that unless we can pass the basics in numeracy, literacy and ICT then we don’t deserve to be teachers. I disagree. Given time, I’ll eventually get an appropriate educated guess at an answer that isn’t too from the correct one. I would concur that for primary teachers, it is obviously essential that they know their times tables off by heart but when I am let loose in the classroom with John Donne and Andrew Marvell for example, I can never foresee an occasion when I say, “One moment whilst I get my calculator”. Similarly when I’m in Monsoon and there is 75% off a dress, I know I am getting a bloody bargain.


mathsmadeeasy said...

Hi Alice

As a way of helping qts students pass their numeracy test, I have put together some materials at:

Good luck


Alice Band said...

Wow, thankyou David. I failed the first attempt. Next one on the 17th

Sally said...

Good Luck on 17th! I'm sure you'll do it:)

DL said...

Hi AB.

Yet another (apparent) absence on my part - humble apologies! In fact I've been here throughout, though, and have enjoyed a chuckle or two at your scribblings.

Good luck for your imminent test! Wish I were a little closer, because I would love to be able to help. As a frustrated wannabe maths teacher, I've only ever got to practise on my own kids and one work colleague so far. Sadly the three hour drive (each way) would make it a bit difficult, although modern technology might be able to close the gap - to an extent, at least. If you've got any sticky areas that I might be able to help with, could meet up on Facebook chat or some such? Let me know...

Best wishes,

Sally said...

P.S. My absence has been real... Clearly hubby has more free time than me. Not sure how... (See blog for explanation!) :) Will try to remedy the situation. I really enjoy reading your blog!

DL said...

Hello Sal. Fancy seeing you here! How have you been keeping?


Jinksy said...

How I sympathise! Although I managed to pas 'O'level maths many years ago, I have a sneaking suspicion it was because of the Algebra and Geometry, not Arithmetic!