Consuela Despi started teaching at NEGS in May 2002, almost immediately after she migrated from Romania. She tells us about a large group of current students who have been recognised for their fascination and enthusiasm in mathematics.
Why did you choose to teach maths?
I have always been fascinated by the power of mathematics. I have learnt that maths makes me a stronger person and gives me tools and methods to teach myself anything. I suppose my maths teachers had a great influence on my career choice and encouraged me to follow my dream.
Like my teachers, I knew that I could make a difference in some other students’ lives by making them accept, love and succeed in mathematics.
What are your greatest challenges as a maths teacher?
Since NEGS is a girls’ school, from the beginning I had to overcome the “We are girls and we cannot be good in maths” attitude. I hear this around the school less and less as time goes by. I am trying to make them accept that they can be as good as boys in maths if they learn to love it.
Each class is a new challenge, so I need to be prepared to use my creativity and intuition to adapt so that my students will leave my lessons with knowledge that they will be happy to take further as part of their individual study. The best feedback I have had from my students has been hearing “This was a fun lesson!”.
It has surprised me, as I do not often play games, nor do I often use funny activities in my lessons. Our girls learn that being able to handle high-level maths and finding in this achievement a tremendous satisfaction means fun for them.
A teacher’s challenge is to start with students who are frightened about maths and bring them to the point where they are happy to come to class, and even say, “I love maths”. This happens often in our school. As a Head of maths, I am proud of this result, and I know it always comes with hard work, discipline and dedication of both teachers and students.
How do you manage a class of students with all different learning capacities?
It is very normal for a maths teacher to be exposed to a large spread of abilities in a class. Being aware of the different levels in my class, I have to make sure that I adjust my techniques so that they will be suited to my students’ specific needs. I often find more appealing ways of looking at maths concepts.
Using technology in class makes some concepts easier to understand and more enjoyable. I encourage all my students to express themselves freely and to feel comfortable enough to ask questions in class discussions. My first objective is to create for them a safe atmosphere where they feel happy to learn and forget their inhibitions about the subject.
Tell us about your new accelerated maths class …
Maths teachers usually extend the brighter students in their mathematics by giving them extra challenges in or out of class. This is a way of pushing our students to the limit and showing them how far they can get, but is there any reward for their great achievements?
We even started a Maths Club at NEGS for those very able students. But how do we commend them? Our educational system fails in rewarding this type of student. I believe that one of the ways out of this situation is acceleration. I have accelerated two other cohorts at NEGS, and both were extremely successful. The girls found motivation in seeing the HSC examination at the end of the tunnel.
I believe that our mathematics syllabus up to Year 10 does not look after those students who have extremely good mental abilities to deal with abstract concepts and who are eager to work towards a higher level of mathematics. We are very lucky to nurture at NEGS again this year a big group of students who are fascinated by mathematics and its mysteries. These students have proved once again that there is no gender limit in studying maths, that girls can do mathematics anywhere and anytime with interest and excitement. I believe that if these girls are stimulated by everyday maths classes, then knowing that they could finish HSC mathematics examinations at the end of Year 11 would be an enormous incentive for their continuous hard work and dedication.
As such, we are preparing to accelerate a group of 13 (or more) girls in 2011, expecting them to sit the HSC mathematics and Extension 1 papers in 2012, a year earlier than their cohort. They are now in Year 9 and are ready for the challenge. They have started doing some preparation work and are very seriously considering this rare opportunity and advantageous offer from NEGS.
I cannot be happier as a teacher than to see the girls I trusted so much from the beginning of Year 7 in the position of challenging themselves in the HSC journey one year earlier. I am both excited and nervous, as I know what a big responsibility this is for our school.
Your personal gains from your career?
After I have given all I can to do my best as a teacher, I have the satisfaction of giving our society young women who appreciate how intellectual obstacles can be crossed with hard work, perseverance, dedication and enjoyment.
I am proud to be a teacher at NEGS, where girls thrive and do not accept limits in challenges, and where mathematics is much more important than it used to be in times gone by.
Thank you Consuela.