The foundational bricks

Previous post: A shift in pedagogy

Most of the children I taught online began classes either because their parents liked my profile or had heard about my teaching by word of mouth. The families were based in different countries (India, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Denmark etc.) and the children studied in grades 6-12. Their schools were affiliated to ICSE, CBSE (these are two popular boards in India) or international boards. My interest and expertise lie in math; so, in these postlets, I'll draw on my online math teaching experiences.

Once a new parent/child reaches out for a session, what is my approach? What are the bricks I lay so that the foundation of our partnership is strong?
~ o ~ x ~ o ~

First, I thank them for expressing an interest in having classes with me and briefly introduce myself along with my relevant professional experiences. I focus on why I chose to be a teacher, the grades/students/subjects that I have taught over my career and how I place a premium on delivering high-quality sessions that I tailor-make for each student.

Second, taking a big picture view - I try to understand what they are looking to get from the sessions. Do they want to cover new topics from scratch by interleaving concept coverage and practice questions? Or, have they learned the topics in school and want our sessions to be focused on practice and doubt clarification? Or, are they finding school math too simple and want to learn deeper concepts and attempt more challenging problems?


Third, and this is perhaps the most important step - I ask the children (not the parents) questions about their beliefs/mindsets around mathematics, their learning styles and practical aspects around their schools, syllabi and textbooks.

  • Do they like, dislike or fear math?
  • How do they perceive their own knowledge, skills and abilities in math?
  • Is there a branch of math that they are fond of and another branch in which they struggle to grasp concepts?
  • Would they prefer the pace of the class to err on the slower side or would they like a faster class?
  • At school, what is their class size? How is their rapport with their math teacher? How do they find the quality of their math class at school?
  • What is the topic that they would like to learn in the trial session and why?
  • What syllabus and textbook do they follow at school?

Lastly, the logistics. We agree upon a time for the trial session and also discuss days/times of the week that would work for both of us in the event that we do begin a long-term association.

I believe that first impressions are lasting so I strive to put my best foot forward when I am speaking to parents/children. From the lines above, you can see how the first interaction helps me learn more about the parents/children in a holistic manner. This, in turn, aids in planning a customised trial session and plants the seeds for what I hope would be a long and fruitful partnership. 😀

Next post: The first class


  1. Do you think, knowing why they want to study maths could also help?
    For example- do they see themselves pursuing a career in mathematics or allied areas, or to pass an exam, or some other reasons.

    Also, how would you as a teacher be able to incorporate this information into your teaching?

    1. Thanks for the question.

      Actually, this (knowing why they want to study math) is something that I bring up during the trial session. I will describe this further in my next postlet. :-)

      While knowing whether a child intends to pursue subjects/a career in which math would be necessary is indeed useful for context, tangibly incorporating this information into the content aspect of my teaching isn't possible. I say this because the syllabus (up to grade 10 at the very least) is uniform for all children studying in a particular board so, whether they like or dislike math, they need to learn the same topics.

      However, it does help in an intangible sense i.e. the psychological aspect of my teaching. For example, if a child intends to pursue a career in medicine and is attending classes with me to simply clear the basic required math, I may use different language and encouragement versus a child who intends to pursue a career in engineering or another field like that where math is more central to the subject.

  2. My favourite part of this was the emphasis you put on asking the *students* all those very useful questions.

    I don't remember getting much of a chance to have that kind of ownership over my own experience with academics. If I was weak in a subject, I was made to sit through additional tuitions.
    Ownership makes such a huge difference. And how much ownership children can take is highly underrated.

    Thanks for posting!

    1. Thanks!

      I fully agree that the amount of ownership that children can take is highly underrated. As they move through middle school and into higher grades, we adults should encourage them to think for themselves while being available to guide/support/advice.

      In fact, by intentionally and consciously asking these questions of the child, I am indirectly driving home the point that he/she has a say and agency in how these sessions will go. And, that his/her opinion and inputs are not just valuable but also necessary to how I will plan the class. It sows the seeds of ownership and will make a long term partnership (if it translates into one) a lot more enriching. :-)

  3. Interesting reading!
    Not sure if children like it or fear it!
    This is dependent upon how the same has been Introduced, how they perceive these images in thier minds, about labels that they get and must importantly, do we asses what they know vs what we want go check to prove that they don't know!
    This debate could be eternal! But as co-learners it important for us to know all that you have do meticulously mentioned.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Shekhar.

      I believe that children don't inherently like or fear mathematics (or any subject for that matter). Such emotions and perceptions about a subject build over time and are largely a result of the experiences that they have had with the subject - it could be having either an excellent or a mediocre teacher, the labels/tags that they get (as you mentioned), the kind of tests/exams that they're exposed to, the peer group and so much more!

      Glad you liked the post! :-)

    2. Thanks!
      Do watch:- surprises in the mind!
      Very interesting research clip on how young learners know maths inheritantly and how our reactions shape their learning.
      Example:- kids as young as 9 months know distance - to crawl... They cry if things are beyond their reach.
      Alternatively, think of any person who does not know maths ... It will always be around abstractness of algebra...

  4. Had this interaction time been long for you ever? And what about students with less interest in maths, how do you support them? I loved the interaction thing. Interaction is the strongest part of any foundation of anything in the world. And that's what makes your classes so interesting!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Abhay.

      I have never felt that this time that I spend in interacting at the beginning is too long. In fact, I find the information that I get to be very useful so the time spent is totally worth it!

      For students who are not interested in math and/or lack confidence in the subject, I ensure:

      (i) that the pace of the class is best suited to them;
      (ii) that the content I give is a mix of theory, practice and videos/visual
      (iii) that I continuously encourage them to not be afraid to try and make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes

      I agree with your views on interaction. After all, we are all people and social animals so even something like a math lesson should have healthy interactions! :-)


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