In the horrible, dark days of December, there was only one class that I actively looked forward to. This was mainly because it was the one class that I could get through without a student being rude to me in some shape or form. Class 8a1 was that lovely class.
Chief amongst the gems was a shining diamond called Tyrone. Tyrone was, and is, a legend.
Tyrone is faultlessly polite, wonderfully enthusiastic and astoundingly good at mathematics. His answers to open questions are so elegantly expressed I want to write them down and frame them. If I’ve planned a shoddy uninteresting and unchallenging lesson, Tyrone’s impassive and unenthused face will say it all. Must try harder.
One early conversation with Tyrone broke my heart a little. I’d given him a UK Maths Challenge problem to try as an extension. His response was, “oh cool! I saw a question like this on the Hogwarts entrance test”. Hogwarts is the only remaining grammar school in the area. I have no doubt that Tyrone would have soared like an eagle there. Yeah, he may do that here too, but one can’t deny the probability of excelling is lower. I just pray he stays on the right path and doesn’t get sucked into the local gang culture or any other negative influences.
Now, the million pound question has to be why aren’t Laura and Darnel like Tyrone? They all went to the same mediocre primary school, live on the same estate and have uneducated parents.
Is it talent? I haven’t made my mind up about the whole Growth mindsets and Bounce thing. Attitude is undoubtedly important but natural ability surely comes into it too. Tyrone’s talent feels so natural that one can’t imagine it being any different, but feelings aren’t exactly reliable cognitive science.
Is it his parents’ attitude? Tyrone does have incredibly dedicated parents. They barely speak English but that doesn’t stop them from doing everything they can to help him succeed. They are unabashedly pushy. Tyrone does extra work in the holidays and weekends. He is in the chess club and reading group. When I phoned home to say how fantastically Tyrone had done in his end of term assessment – getting the highest mark in the year – his mum cried and just kept repeating “God bless you”. His parents support him to the ends of the earth.
Is it exposure, knowledge and practice? All that reading and extra work gives Tyrone a really solid knowledge base. He’s got a reading age of 14. He has a flawless mathematical grounding in terms of times tables, square numbers, powers of two and all that malarky. It really does make a massive difference. He makes connections lightning fast. His basic arithmetic doesn’t hold him back like it does for that vast majority of the students I teach.
Is it his hard work? Tyrone is always striving and is hungry for more work, more challenge and that feeling of success. He is not scared of work. He wants hard questions. He is not interested in the gossip about which 12-year-old is now going out which other 12-year-old. The focus is maths.
It’s probably a combination of all the above. But by god, that combination is potent. If only we could bottle it.