A day in the life: teachers

We talk to three teachers, working in different countries


In this issue’s edition of our day in the life series, we hear from three maths teachers who work in different countries:

  • Elizabeth Brocklebank is a trainee secondary school teacher in England
  • Karin Togaç Çağlıuzun teaches in a private middle school in Turkey
  • Angelo Rosello teaches in a classe préparatoire in France

Elizabeth Brocklebank

Hi! I’m Elizabeth. I studied mathematics at Durham University, and I am now completing my PGCE with qualified teaching status in secondary maths at Durham. For a trainee teacher, every day is different! To achieve qualified teacher status, we have to complete a minimum of 120 days in school over two different placements, but this doesn’t mean we have to teach every day! By the end of our course, we are expected to be teaching 14–16 hours a week.

During the course, we also visit different schools around the north-east for workshops with specialist teachers. We also spend some days at university, where we will have a lecture about educational research and spend the afternoons with our subject groups. We might read some papers, discuss some maths misconceptions, or we might be lucky enough to have someone from an organisation such as the Advanced Mathematics Support Programme do a workshop with us!

However, for this day in a life I will describe a typical day (although a slightly busier day) on placement for a trainee teacher. I leave the house at 7.30am and drive to school. I arrive at around 8.10. Sometimes, we will have a staff briefing before school, but not today! I take the opportunity to chat to some of the other teachers until the school day starts at 8.30. On placement, we get involved in all aspects of school life. This includes having a form. Here, I lead a year 7 form. From 8.30–8.50, we spend time preparing for the day ahead.

A classroom full of empty desks

Elizabeth does have students, promise

Today, for period 1, I’m teaching year 10 set 2. They’re learning about substitution. They had struggled with putting numbers into standard form on their previous assessment, so we made sure to include some substitution with standard form to challenge them.

Period 2, I teach my year 8s. Yesterday’s lesson with them was a formal observation from my uni tutor—thankfully they were well behaved. Today, we are learning how to interpret scatter graphs. I give each student a pack of Smarties and we count how many of each colour were in the tube, before plotting them in a table and on a graph and discussing (and eating) our results.

A bar graph made of smarties

Purple can’t win here!

From 10.40—11, the students have break. Twice a week, staff are expected to go on duty to ensure the smooth running of break. However, today is not my duty day so I can go to the staff room to grab a quick drink and a snack! After break, it’s off to assembly with my year 7 form: today they’re learning about Ramadan. The role of the form tutor here is to ensure the students behave appropriately and to support students during this time.

In period 3, I’m teaching again—this time, year 9s in the top set. This is our second lesson on loci: drawing the locus of distance from a straight line. We are lucky in this school that every classroom has a visualiser and therefore it is easy to demonstrate how to use a compass and where marks are gained in mark schemes.

After this we have lunch (cheese sandwiches for me) from 12.25–1.15 before I have a free period. I often use this time to get planning done or do my uni assignments. We have three essays to complete throughout the year so it’s important to manage our time effectively. Today, I start planning for next week’s year 7 lessons.

Period 5, I have a meeting with my school mentor. This is an amazing maths teacher who gives me extra support to ensure I make good progress on my placement. We use this time to discuss how my lessons that week went; I get some advice on things I can do to improve my teaching; and we discuss any other concerns I have.

After school, at 3pm, we might have staff meetings. This could be as a whole school or in the department, but tonight I’m lucky and I can leave straight away.

This year, I have taken up ballroom and Latin dancing through a university society. It is important to make sure you have a good work–life balance in a PGCE so get involved in uni societies while you have the chance to try something new! I head back to Durham for practice with a friend from my old course. We’re off to Blackpool this weekend.

Elizabeth, in a blue dress, ballroom dancing with a partner in black.

Shirley Ballas who?

Karin Togaç Çağlıuzun

My name is Karin Togaç Çağlıuzun. I am a mathematics teacher at a private middle school in Turkey.

My daily routine is quite packed. I live close to the school, so in the mornings, I enjoy a refreshing walk to work, which helps me mentally prepare for the day ahead.

A decorated table, set up for pi day.

Are you telling me that it’s 22:7?! I’m late for school!

At 8.30am, I kickstart my day by planning the entire schedule for my classes. Being responsible for teaching mathematics to grades 5, 6, 7, and 8 (years 6–9), as well as being the form tutor of grade 8s where I handle everything related to my students, requires meticulous planning.

By 9 o’clock, my first lesson begins, and I teach seven to eight classes every day, each lasting 40 minutes.

I have lunch at midday, and two days a week I have shifts where I am responsible to ensure everything runs smoothly during lunch and other breaks—usually this means I don’t take any breaks myself. During the remaining days, I use the breaks and gaps between classes to handle paperwork, such as making copies and preparing class materials.

In addition to teaching, I shoulder various responsibilities in the school. Every Thursday, I stay after school to run the `mind games’ club. To help students to prepare for local and international competitions, we give them a space to play strategy games such as Quoridor and Abalone, and to learn and improve their abilities to solve puzzles such as sudoku and kakuro. They even prepare for online international maths leagues.

Karin cosplaying as the international date line

Occasionally, I attend school-related events or parent–teacher conferences during weekends. One unique aspect of my job is having a special student in the fifth grade who is undergoing cancer treatment. I set up my computer during classes so that he can virtually attend, and I occasionally conduct special lessons for him.

The school day typically wraps up around 4–5pm, and once I’m home, I shift my focus to my kindergarten-aged son. I spend quality time assisting him with his classwork and then conclude the day by preparing materials for the next day’s classes. Despite the demanding schedule, the satisfaction of imparting knowledge and making a difference in students’ lives keeps me motivated.

Angelo Rosello

Hello there! My name is Angelo and I am a maths professor teaching in a classe préparatoire aux grandes écoles (CPGE) in Paris. In the fairly likely scenario that you have no idea how to pronounce any of that, let alone what it means, I have taken the liberty to enclose a picture of an adorable Indian pygmy hog which you may look at now. He and I are very much alike, in that we are that one critically endangered species that you didn’t even know existed until today.

Angelo in his natural habitat

So what is this all about? A classe préparatoire, usually shortened classe prépa or even simply prépa by students who cannot afford to waste a second of precious revising time, is an intensive two-year study course whose purpose is to prepare for the national competitive entrance exams to the grandes écoles, the most selective, top-level French schools. They are accessible to high school graduates and, like French Pokémon, come in many different shapes and sizes.

This academic model of classes prépa and highly-selective competitive exams as a whole is, however, on the decline. For various political and economical reasons which I am honestly not equipped to discuss in detail, many elite schools seem to be evolving towards other means of selection and the threat of closing down some prépas becomes increasingly real every day. So before I pack my bags to join a family of pygmy hogs and have the time of my life in the Himalayan grasslands, let me tell you a little bit about what teaching mathematics in a French prépa is like. TL;DR: it is great.

I teach at the Lycée Montaigne, a 130-year-old high school which is also home to a relatively small prépa éco where students prepare for the entrance exams to French business schools. Say what you will about the busy and onerous Parisian lifestyle (I for one never miss an opportunity to complain), I must say it still feels very surreal to walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg as the sun rises on my way to the classroom.

We’ve seen worse commutes

My class is made up of about 50 fresh-out-of-high-school students that I follow all year round, as I gently but firmly try to make them adjust to the intense rhythm and expectations of prépa. They all come from different social and mathematical backgrounds and I see them at least 13 hours a week. This gives us plenty of time to get to know each other pretty well. It is a very interesting challenge to try and get every student to work and perform to the best of their ability. The transition from high school to prépa is usually quite a severe one, which makes the bond between students and the teaching team all the more memorable. If I’m honest, I love having this teacher’s privilege to leave an impression on my students that might haunt them for the rest of their lives! I try my best to use that power wisely, and evidently fail by cracking terrible maths puns every now and again.

The mathematics curriculum is relatively elementary but still surprisingly diverse and exciting for newcomers. This gives enough room to explore interesting properties during Saturday morning exams, and hopefully communicate the beauty of it all to the more mathematically curious, while the rest grind their teeth at the sheer length of the proof of the convergence of Riemann sums. Another essential part of the life in prépa is the concept of khôlles (yes we really did put a little hat on the ‘o’ after an absolutely iconic ‘kh’ and to this day no one is entirely sure why it is spelled like that). These are semi-weekly oral exams where students are given a few exercises to solve on the blackboard. I remember this experience to be a little stressful as a student, especially the first few times, but thankfully we live in a day and age where it is no longer acceptable to throw bits of chalk for forgetting a negative sign.

Ange-hello there

That about sums up my experience as a prof de prépa! I am positive it would be without a doubt the absolute best profession in the world if it weren’t for the copious amount of papers to grade and the recurring realisation that a non-negligible amount of students still cling to the deep-rooted belief that every function is linear. On those dark days I sometimes find myself yearning for the Himalayan grassland, but then I remember that my students would be as lost without me as I would be without them.

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