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Lecturer aces GCSE Maths to better help struggling students

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I suppose I’ve always had a knack with maths. I’ve always loved the subject and have been naturally good at calculations, formulae and mental arithmetic.

But when I was 16, I left school with no qualifications, no real ambition and no real direction. All I really knew was that I wanted to get out of the tough estate I’d grown up in.

I wanted to join the Army. When you sign up, you have to sit a test which determined what I could in the forces. From there, I went to an Army Apprentice College for two years. I did six weeks of basic training, like any soldier, and then after that I went on to six months of education which is where I got my first GCSE Maths qualification.

My mindset was changed after the basic training. It changed from not putting the effort in to one of total focus. This taught me that most crucial lesson of life – you can only achieve through hard work and perseverance.

That has stuck with me for the rest of my life. When I left the Army, I went into the construction industry and worked my way up from being a labourer and dogsbody to becoming a quantity surveyor and area manager, working for multi-million pound construction companies in the UK.

I’ve had a good career, I really have. I was able to retire when I was 56. But it didn’t take long for me to realise that I wasn’t ready. I’m still too young!

So I saw a little café job going at Loughborough College. I applied, got the job and they could see quite quickly that I had a good rapport with the students. I love meeting and talking to new people so it came naturally to me.

I got talking to members of the maths course and I told them that maths was my bag. I kept bugging them to give me past test papers so I could test myself, but also show them what I could do.

From there, I was asked if I’d like to work as a learning support assistant, to help young people who were struggling in the subject.

I instantly loved it. I could empathise with so many of these younger people who were from similar backgrounds to me and with similar issues of confidence.

It’s such a privilege to be in a position where I can help kids grow and better understand the subject because it is hard, especially when you lack the confidence in it.

Although I felt like I was making a difference and helping, what I wanted was to get to a place where I could show the kids how maths fits into their day to day life so it would be easier for them to understand concepts and relate to it.

I think that’s where my strength is, I can teach maths in a way the kids understand it.

It is so rewarding when you see someone start to blossom in maths after they’ve been struggling so long with the subject and their own confidence.

But because of the way I’m wired, it wasn’t enough for me to just help people on their way. I wanted to be able to support them even more.

So as well as doing a teaching qualification, I wanted to sit my maths GCSE again. I thought that by living and breathing the course work and exams, I’d know exactly what the students needed to know, but also I could figure out the best way of explaining it to them.

It was bizarre, surreal even, going from being a member of staff to being a student - but it was also good fun.

I bugged them like crazy as well, asking them to pile on the work and the challenges. I really wanted to push myself as much as I could.

I was as frustrated as anyone when the Covid-19 lockdown meant we wouldn’t be able to sit exams. But I knew I’d worked hard throughout the course and done well in my mock exams.

So when I got my results and saw that Grade 9, I was well chuffed. I couldn’t be happier. I felt like my hard work and determination had all paid off. I was over the moon.

But results day was extremely strange because as happy as I was, I was getting calls and emails from some students who had not done as well as they’d hoped.

But that’s why you go into teaching, to support students through the good times and the bad.

The tutors throughout Loughborough College have been brilliant, so supportive. But that’s typical of them. That’s one of the great things about Loughborough College, the support network, both students and staff, it’s unbelievable.

I love my job and love giving back. I’m now a maths lecturer at Loughborough College and looking to finish my Level 3 teaching qualification and then on to my Level 5 Diploma in Teaching.

I think I’m living proof that it’s never too late to go back to the classroom. I’d had a really good career and could have relaxed into retirement. But it’s just not me, so coming to Loughborough College was one of the best things I’ve done.

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