A wonderful teacher made a true difference in my life. My maths lecturer, Dr Peter Neumann at Oxford University, was so intelligent, but could make what he was teaching accessible to those in his classes, taking pleasure in explaining complicated things in simple ways.
There is an art to explanation – he really had it and now, as a maths teacher myself, it’s a quality I always aspire. There were times I doubted myself and my ability and it was Dr Neumann who played a huge part in getting me through my degree – I got a First class degree, and I know a big part of that was because he believed in and supported me.
Maths is not always the most popular subject, which makes helping pupils get to grips with it even more rewarding. I love changing pupils’ beliefs about whether or not they are “good” at maths, showing them with hard work they can do so much better than they ever thought possible. I like to use maths as a way to teach students about discipline, hard work and determination to aspire to achieve great things. Once a pupil finds out they can do something they once thought they couldn’t, this lesson can be applied to any hurdle they need to face and need to overcome in life.
I didn’t always dream of being a teacher; after university I worked in finance for six years. A real “lightbulb moment” inspired me to make the move.
During my time in finance I volunteered in a local school, helping children with their reading once a week. The first moment I walked into the school I knew I wanted to be a teacher; the place was buzzing – it was so different from a day in the office.
I saw how teachers worked with children, helped shaped their future with every instruction and conversation, and wanted to be a part. Within a month, I had signed up for a PGCE. Here was my chance to focus on my two passions – maths, and my new one for teaching.
Any teacher will tell you it’s certainly not a career for someone wanting an easy life. You have to match 30 different energies to make a good lesson. You always think you can do more and you’ve got to be on your game all the time – you’re letting people down if you’re not. You have to find a way to reconcile this with the rest of your life, retaining some energy for yourself so you don’t burn out.
On Sunday, the winners of this year’s Pearson Teaching Awards will be announced. This time last year I won a Gold Award. I remember the mixture of pride and nerves the finalists must be feeling now.
This year, I’m involved as a judge. Every study shows the biggest impact on student attainment is teacher quality – the more you do to celebrate teachers, and raise the profile and status of teaching in this country, the better.
My judging partners and I visited a broad mix of schools across England, including state-funded and independent schools and further education colleges. At each visit we watched closely as the nominated teachers went about their work, and we spoke to their senior leadership teams, students, parents, and colleagues. Some of the hair-on-the-back-of-your neck moments were when we heard from others.
When you’re prompted to talk with local businesses to understand the impact a teacher has had on their students and wider community; or when a former pupil comes back knowing we’re there, desperate to tell us the difference their old teacher made to their life – then you know you’re on to something special.
It was also a very emotional experience – some of the stories you’ll hear at Sunday’s ceremony may even bring a tear to your eye and a lump in your throat. It sounds like a cliché, but so many of the nominees could have won Gold – it was a very difficult choice. That’s what you get when you put a bunch of amazing people together and are asked to pick the “best”.
But the prizes are not just for one individual. I remember being so proud for quite a few weeks after winning the award, but so were my colleagues and students.
In teaching there’s rarely a flower growing in a field of weeds – great teachers are supported by the school, ethos, colleagues and their community. It’s an award for everyone who has helped and motivated them to be the great teacher they are. It’s a shame you can’t give these awards to all the teachers that deserve them.
Colin Hegarty won the gold award for “Outstanding Use of Technology in Education” in the 2014 Pearson Teaching Awards. He is a maths teacher at Preston Manor School in Wembley, London and founder of maths tuition website hegartymaths.com
The 2015 Teaching Awards will be announced on Sunday and broadcast on BBC2 on October 25.