Once upon a time at my place we used to watch “New Zealand’s Next Top Model” and “America’s Next Top Model”. They were a bit of light fluff that we could have on while doing something else.
Every week in the show, the remaining models had a photoshoot. This involved some famous photographer taking photos of the models, after dressing them up in themed costumes, or painting them in mud, or dunking them in water, or getting them to jump on trampolines etc.
And every week the same thing happened: as the photographers took the photos, they displayed very clearly in their demeanour that they were happy with some of the models, and unhappy with others. When the photographer was happy, they smiled and they looked like they were enjoying themselves; when they wre unhappy, they had a steely look of determination as if they just couldn’t wait for the whole thing to be over.
And what was the reason the photographers were so happy with some of the models? Well, they said it was because the models actually listened to their instructions. They did what the photographers asked them to do even if it sounded silly, and even if it meant admitting they didn’t know how to do it without being given instructions. Other models, on the other hand, just continued to do whatever they thought was best regardless of what the photographers said and how unhappy the photographers became.
And every so often I am reminded of these photographers when I am working with students in the Maths Learning Centre — I too have times when I am happy or unhappy because of the behaviour of the people I work with.
I don’t mind in the slightest if the students don’t understand my first explanation and I have to try another and another — that’s all part of the job. What I mind is when I ask them to do something that will help them learn — like looking up something in their notes or writing down a particular fact on their page — and they flatly refuse to do it. It makes me so angry!
On the other hand, some students happily take all suggestions. They are willing to give anything a go, and when they’re in the same situation next time they give it a go again without needing the sugesstion. Just like the happy photographers, I come away from these interactions with a smile.
And I get something else from this that the photographers don’t: These students who listen, usually succeed in understanding their maths. And who wouldn’t be happy about that?