I arrived in Thomas Tallis in April 1991 to take over the role of 2i/c of maths. It was, in a way, a dream come true as I had always wanted to teach there and was so excited to get this post and little did I know I would be there for the next 21 years. Its reputation in the borough was fabulous and all my teacher trainee peers who were lucky enough to be selected for a teaching practice there were looked upon with jealousy and, dare I say, resentment, by the rest of us.
My first ‘task’ was to finish off teaching the Year 13 A-level curriculum with my partner teacher Dave Ellis. Up to now I had had limited experience of teaching A-level and certainly not Year 13. During a phone call in advance of starting at Tallis, he suggested I take on possibly the 3 most complex topics in the syllabus. “Sure,” said I, “no problem”. I spent the Easter holidays in a perpetual state of fear ensconced in maths problems, past A-level papers, textbooks, writing and re-writing lesson plans, having panic conversations with fellow newish teachers, those I had trained with, never once suggesting to Dave this was a tad outside my comfort zone. I got through it and, in a way, this set the tone for what became my joy for and love of teaching and doing maths. And so, I thank Dave for this taster of what was to come.
The department was made up of extraordinary maths teachers. The A-level teachers including Liz Stewart, Tony Antonioni, Jenny Ward-Ure, Dave, all of whom were inspiring to work alongside. I knew from the off I just wanted to be as good as them. The culture of loving maths was contagious. That first summer I was initiated into the silence of the department work base while everyone poured over the papers at the same time as the students were doing their actual exams in the hall. Nobody was allowed to share what they had got for each question until everyone had a chance to finish – we still had to teach other year groups in between doing the papers. And in later years, when we didn’t have the time to do this, we would spend parts of our summer holidays doing the exam papers. In fact I remember handing my papers to Jenny every September, asking her to mark them for me and give me feedback. Thanks Jenny!
The culture there felt unique at the time and like none I have experienced since. It permeated outside our work base such that students knew we loved what we were doing, so much so that maths became a bit more acceptable, possibly even trendy. The number of students in A-level groups increased dramatically. Rather than the one group of 8-10 students, we were filling two groups each year. We were blessed with some wonderful students, many of whom gave us another dose of fear as their maths skills/knowledge were far more advanced than ours (or mine anyway). Many a time we could be found taking deep breaths outside the classroom concentrating on how to ensure we could challenge the likes of Christina Goldschmidt, Kechi Nzerem, Dixon Poon and Ben Colburn, to name just a few.
Then, thanks to Jenny, Danny Brown, Angela Taylor and Jeannette Harding (the latter two to this day inspiring young people to shine brilliantly in Tallis maths), we were given the opportunity to teach further maths. As a group who needed to be prepared. We did just that. On Monday lunchtimes, the potential further maths teachers met and went through topics. Allocated in advance, we ‘taught’ each other from studying the topics and how we could counter misconceptions, linking them to prior learning to provide a seamless curriculum from A-level to further maths. No fear here obviously….
Over the years, more teachers came and went, more students did the same. I can’t mention them all but know I have huge respect for and thank them all as they encouraged my love for maths, regardless of whether they taught or studied A-level. Students at any level challenge their teachers to be better all the time and they certainly did at Tallis. My love of maths remains a constant for me. I still try to keep up with the changes and continue to do problems and the odd A-level paper when I can – I just don’t get Jenny to mark them anymore, though I think she would.
-- Trish Dooley