For over ten years I have talked to many mathematicians, and – speaking as a professional interviewer – sometimes I have found that very difficult.

Recently, I blurted this out to a revered mathematician and – to my surprise – he understood what I meant. And this is what he told me.

1. Mathematicians are very IMPATIENT people.

2. A good mathematician is not necessarily a good teacher. However, a good teacher can learn – relatively quickly – to teach up to and including Key 3 maths.

3. When talking to each other, mathematicians have no communication problems, but they can have difficulty when talking to a student because what is then needed is a restrictive language with a smaller vocabulary, for each age and ability.

Imagine a staircase, said my friendly mathematician. At the top of the staircase two maths teachers, Pat and Alex, are happily chatting to each other about maths.

On the bottom step stands a five-year-old. On the second step stands a
six-year-old, and so on. The maths teachers cannot easily adjust their communication level about maths to either of them… or a ten-year-old or a fourteen-year-old.

Mathematicians like talking to each other at the top of the stairs, because it makes them feel more secure. But a good maths teacher needs to be able to communicate well about maths on every level of the staircase.

Copyright © Shirley Conran 2015

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