David Tall : Life

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My interest in teaching began when I taught at Wellingborough Grammar School as a nineteen year old, to fill in for a term when a chemistry master left for a new appointment in mid-year. As an undergraduate at Oxford, I considered three possible careers, as a teacher, as a university lecturer and in a secure career that paid a lot of money. After turning down four offers of jobs as an insurance actuary in central London, I decided to become a university lecturer. However, my interest in teaching continued and, after three years at Sussex, I took up a post as Lecturer in Mathematics with Special Interests in Education at Warwick in 1969. For the first ten years I had a joint appointment as a mathematician in the mathematics department and a position in the Education Department that mainly consisted of liaising with the Mathematics Department at Coventry College of Education. In 1977 Coventry College became the Education Faculty of the University of Warwick and, after a year’s study leave, I moved full-time to the Science Education Department in the new faculty, which included mathematics, geography, and science education.

Initially the work load was horrendous. My teaching load increased from 60 lecture hours per year to 240 lecture hours, which consisted of my original 60 hours from mathematics, which I continued to give, and 180 hours in the Science Education Department. (For those who work 40 hours a week and wonder how this squares with 240 hours a year, it should be realised that these hours are the timetabled hours of contact; in addition are hours of preparation and marking which can be many times the contact hours when preparing formal lectures for large classes.) In addition to the sudden quadrupled teaching load, I decided I must be both professionally and academically qualified. I therefore spent Monday of each week teaching in schools, starting with primary school children and working through the age range to older children on the professional side and began to work for a doctorate in Education for the academic side.

In 1981/2, I spent the whole academic year as a class-teacher in Woodloes Middle School, with my own class of 11/12 year olds. In addition to teaching the full range of subjects to my own class of 24 children, I was responsible for mathematics for the more able in the year, I taught music to 6 classes, and was football coach to the 10/11 year olds. My timetable included Creative English, Thematic English, Technical English, Art, Religious Education, Science, Mathematics, Music and Sport. It was a rewarding and exhausting year. In the first few weeks I went home to go to bed to sleep for a couple of hours to recover before spending an hour or two marking work and preparing for the next day. At the weekends, Saturday morning was devoted to supporting the cross-country team and Sunday afternoon was for planning the lessons for the following week. My football coaching consisted mainly in fixing matches for the team to play against other schools and driving the team to and from matches. Fortunately the lads had enough footballing talent and technical know-how to enable them to survive my ineptitude as a footballer. I also introduced the computer into the school for the very first time.

Back at University, I began programming software for mathematics teaching. This was predominantly building a suite of programs for plotting graphs and investigating ideas in the calculus, but it also included a few other programs such as one for introducing fractions and another for evaulating algebraic expressions. In 1985 I showed my software at an invited conference in Strasbourg and this led immediately to invitations to present my ideas in a range of countries, including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and several trips to the UA. At this time I was ‘ahead of the pack’. I was a mathematician, a teacher (at primary, secondary and university level), a researcher in education, and a software developer, all rolled into one. This led to many trips abroad to talk about my theory and my practical approach.

I was promoted to Reader in Mathematics Education in 1989 and Professor in 1992. The promotion to Reader was especially interesting as it involved a change in the law in the Houses of Parliament. When I was going through the process of promotion, a new Education Act was being passed through Parliament to enable academics to be dismissed if there was no longer any work for them to do. This meant that the notion of 'tenure' was to be modified. However, it was not to be retrospective, so those in post already would not be affected by the new law. But the Education Act was so written that anyone who changed their job would lose tenure. I took this up with my Member of Parliament, Jim Pawsey. I explained that I was having my job title changed, from Senior Lecturer to Reader, but I would not get any extra salary. Thus my colleagues, who did not stretch themselves would stay as senior lecturers at the same salary as me and retain tenure, whilst I, who had worked hard and was simply having my job renamed would lose it. As a consequence of my intervention, the Education Act was rewritten so that tenure would only be lost, if the change in job status gave an increase in salary. Thus I retained tenure as a Reader.

It was a Pyhhric victory. When I was promoted to Professor three years later, I lost my tenure anyway.

The story continues here ...

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