We Never Planned to be Maths Teachers!

“At school I was a disengaged, maths-struggling student. I never imagined for one minute I would be a maths teacher! Now I want to help others overcome the struggles with maths like I did.”

Meet Angie and Asun, Multiply’s fantastic maths tutors. They each have a very different journey to becoming a maths teacher and it may not be quite as you think. But their goal is united. They both want to help people to improve their maths skills and confidence and banish the stigma surrounding maths that causes so much fear, anxiety and ignorance and makes maths out to be an enemy! 

What was your job role before becoming a teacher?

Angie: After leaving school with limited qualifications, I enrolled in a 6th form and completed a resit year to secure my GCSEs. During this period, I realised my potential, when treated like an adult, and successfully passed everything except Maths. With my ambition to become a PE teacher seeming out of reach, combined with pressure from home to find employment, I joined the Youth Training Scheme, equivalent to today’s apprenticeships I landed a year-long job in a Building Society, earning a modest £25 per week. Even on this low wage my parents still deducted 25%! This experience quickly taught me valuable budgeting skills. Balancing this job with a part-time bartending role, my mental arithmetic abilities excelled and I became the queen of percentages with savings and mortgages.

Asun: After starting my degree in engineering in Spain I came to do my final year at the Camborne School of Mines and fell in love with Cornwall. I went back to Spain to start working in my trade but soon I realised it was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I decided to move back to the UK and worked in different jobs in hospitality and taught private Spanish lessons on my free time, which sparked my love for teaching.

Why did you become a teacher/change career?

Angie: Although I had dedicated 20 years to the Building Society, climbing the corporate ladder and eventually attaining the position of Customer Services Manager (Assistant Branch Manager), the workplace landscape in 1995 was notably different from today. To transition to part-time work after having my first child, I had to relinquish my managerial role, and found myself in the role of mortgage processor on my return. Knocked down, but not knocked out, I decided that in order to explore alternative career opportunities I would need more qualifications and I started to explore my teaching ambition again. As a manger I had been heavily involved with staff development and this kindled a dream of being a trainer. While my employer offered internal qualifications, these weren’t widely recognised, so I embarked on a three-year journey at Truro College to earn my Certificate in Education. I was now equipped to teach. A lucky encounter with a friend opened the door to teaching maths to hair and beauty students; I now had to face my fear head-on!

Asun: The opportunity fell on my lap. While I was teaching private Spanish lessons I popped down to my local college to get some resources where I met a lovely Spanish teacher who, due to an illness, asked for my help with the A level Spanish exams. After that I was offered the chance of doing a PGCE in Education. I never thought I could become a teacher but something in me sparked when I realised I could add value to peoples’ lives. After my PGCE I started teaching A-level and GCSE Spanish until one of my line managers realised I was an engineer and decided to ask me to teach GCSE Maths too.

Have you always been good at maths ?

Angie: I was confident with maths until secondary school, an experience shared by many students I’ve taught. I believe that the relationship you have with your maths teacher is crucial. Unfortunately, my experience, although over 40 years ago, is still prevalent today. The traditional approach of ‘you either get it or you don’t’ led to setting students apart, fostering feelings of failure and maths anxiety. My past CSE grade 2, equivalent to today’s grade 2 in the new 9-1 GCSE (formerly grade E), made me realise that to teach as an adult, I needed to go back and learn it all again! It was the pilot of the ‘Level 5 Diploma: Teaching Numeracy to the Lifelong Learning Sector’ that truly transformed my relationship with maths. This course changed everything. It taught me not only how to teach maths but opened up all the social, economic and psychological aspects that are also entwined and surround the subject.  

Asun: I was never really confident in maths during primary and secondary school. It wasn’t until I started College and I had a maths teacher whose teaching style matched my learning style that I found my confidence to become a logical thinker. After that I really enjoyed maths but it took me a long time to make deeper connections. These connections continue to grow as both maths and English are, for me, languages which I will always continue learning.

How did you two meet?

Angie: I first met Asun whilst on the Level 5 course back in 2008. Asun was teaching GCSE, I was teaching Functional Skills to Hair and Beauty students. We had to do a joint presentation that bridged the gap between maths and real-life applications. Our chosen topic was % volume of hydrogen peroxide when bleaching hair. This presentation cemented our partnership as we successfully integrated mathematics with real-life application to devise a formula for hairdressers to use. Little did we both know that 4 years later we would both be working at Truro College setting up a post 16 maths resit programme. Over a decade later, we’re still refining this formula through our ongoing collaboration as part of the Multiply project.

Asun: When I got asked to teach GCSE maths, the College provided CPD in the form of the Level 5 Diploma: Teaching Numeracy to the Lifelong Learning Sector. This was the biggest eye opener in my career. It was not until then that I realised the level of fear maths and numeracy had in the UK culture. Meeting Angie allowed me to explore the psychology behind teaching Level 2 maths and helped curve down my pragmatism.
I then taught for 10 years, and still continue to do so, in the 16 to 19 and adult provision with Angie as my Deputy Team Leader. She empowered me to explore, analyse and empathise with people’s feelings and anxiety towards maths.

What does maths mean to you?

Angie: Having taught the resit program to students aged 16-19 and adults and earning my degree in Education and Training, I’ve come full circle. I’ve gained a deep appreciation for maths as a universal language that impacts all aspects of our lives. Passing exams opens doors to success and improved job opportunities. As the guardian of this qualification, I feel a duty to demystify maths and guide others in conquering their maths-related fears as I once did. It’s not just about a certificate! Once you grasp maths, your financial decisions improve, and the world becomes more understandable. It’s a vital skill to pass on to the next generation. Collaborating with parents is crucial, as maths anxiety tends to run in families, and our education system must adapt to engage parents more effectively.

Asun: Now it means everything, but for many years I did not think of this subject as anything more important that English, Spanish, history or chemistry. I believe maths is a language and once it is decoded the logic and problem-solving capabilities will follow.

Being a polyglot [multilingual person] has allowed me to make connections between language and mathematical ability, and I believe everybody can be taught to translate and understand from maths to English and vice versa.

Why did you choose to work on the Multiply project?

Angie: I saw it as a new challenge that aligned with my passion. With this new available funding I wondered:

  • Could this project encourage adults to return to education?
  • Could it empower parents to help banish maths anxiety (something which is only prevalent in the UK)?
  • Could it even spark ambition in someone to become a maths teacher?

High aims I know, but we are working on it!

Asun: I wanted to be able to capture more people than just compulsory maths retakers. The greatest lessons I have done with adults were those ones where a logical and linguistic light bulb moment happened, after decades of self-doubt and anxiety. Being involved in a project like Multiply is, for me, a thank you to the community who has accepted me with open arms.

What piece of advice would you give to anyone who struggles with maths?

Angie: Breathe! There is a psychology to learning maths and as you mature you need to realign your school experience to how you are now as an adult. Maths has a foundation of systems which all interconnects. By revisiting these connections it can all make more sense. Maths is problem solving and can cause you to scratch your head. But remember that feeling when you solve it. Eureka! It feels good doesn’t it? Yes, maths can produce endorphins too!

Asun: Firstly, I would love to remind adults that your school experience does not determine your ability to do maths. Some of us got stuck onto that feeling from our previous experiences but as we grow older our life skills, maturity and reasoning develops which makes approaching logical thinking much more realistic. Problem solving is a great empowering feeling!!

Why should someone do a Multiply course?

Angie: Why not? Multiply is completely free and could be your first step to who knows where.

Asun: Why shouldn’t they? Let’s take advantage while it is free and achievable: Multiply could be your first step to success!

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