Why did you start teaching? What (or who) inspired you?
I was lucky to have had amazing female maths teachers all my life and I was inspired by every one of them. I could tell that maths provided rigour and that made things hard but I always felt that I belonged to those that were meant to enjoy maths. I taught my dolls maths with chalk on the back of my bedroom door when I was little and jumped at any chance to teach anyone around me. Sharing the joy of maths became my most valuable skill and it has given me so much pleasure. It all started with Mrs Marsland from Ryan Street School in Bradford – thank you Miss for sharing this most precious gift.
What pearls of wisdom have you been given over the years that have helped you with your teaching?
My best teachers have shown me that learning is inclusive and made me feel like I belong, so I am always very careful never to act in a way that might be perceived as elitist and to make students comfortable enough to take steps outside of their comfort zone by modelling doing just that and surviving!
Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Find your voice and use it.
Being true to yourself as a teacher is so important. Students rightly sniff out any whiff of pretence and are much more comfortable with who you are than who you might be pretending to be.
Find out what the students actually understand – its really easy to think they understand things because they are quiet or a few people have answered some questions well.
If you were mentoring a first-time teacher, what three pieces of advice would you give?
Its more than ok to make mistakes and learn from them – its essential! That’s how students will learn and you have show them how to do this comfortably and without judgement.
Engage every student – make sure they know that they could be asked a question at any time without any get out clauses – but provide support for those struggling by offering phone a friend, ask the audience and 50:50 options. Lolly sticks with students’ names written on them or spreadsheet random name picker means the students who know answers don’t keep you thinking everyone knows what they’re doing.
What advice/top tips would you give to more experienced teachers?
Feel the fear and do it anyway! You probably don’t realise how much you stay in your teaching comfort zone – try stepping out of it, after all its what you expect your students to do. Watching a video of yourself teaching will show you quite clearly what you are doing well already and what you could do better …
… and always respond to what learning is actually taking place and not what you assume/hope is happening. What is the point of continuing with next steps in learning if a large number of students are not ready?
What new technologies are you currently using to enhance your teaching? What are your top tips for using them?
Microsoft Teams is what I am using mainly – and my practice is changing to think about how to include more team teaching and manage break out rooms for group work in seminars. It’s a steep learning curve but it seemed so much steeper before it was necessary!
What are the biggest challenges faced by teaching staff? How do you overcome these?
Remember to focus on the learning – there is no point in great teaching with no learning!
A great piece of advice I was given years ago was to notice whether I was working harder than the students – and if so, to take a moment to reflect on why and how to redress the balance. Think about how to make sure every student is engaged.
If you could write a recipe for the perfect inspiring teacher, what ingredients would you need?
Subject knowledge + confidence in taking risks + generosity + high expectations + enthusiasm!
Enjoyed hearing from Shaheen? See the full list of 2020 winners and commendees and read other interviews.