A Teacher You Can Count On

An interview with Thomas Brooks, Primary Class Teacher.
Thomas Brooks joined the British School of Bucharest in 2020. Thomas studied at the University of Greenwich and received his teaching certificate in 2013. Before joining us, he worked at Millennium Primary School, Bangkok Patana School and at the International School of Brunei. Thomas has worked across Key Stage 1, 2 and 3 in both London and South East Asia and has thoroughly enjoyed managing sports teams and nurturing teachers' confidence using technology along the way. His biggest passion is developing confident mathematicians and instilling a love of the subject.

Why did you become a teacher?

I used to work in Criminal Law, particularly defence. My role involved working with lots of people much older and more experienced than me. I also felt very reactive to people. I wanted to be more proactive in my job and so I decided to do some volunteer work in a local school, working with Year 6 children. I thought it would be really basic at first but was blown away by what 10 and 11-year-olds were capable of, as well as their sense of humour and outlook on the world.

What made you want to join BSB?

I had been in Asia for five years. I met my partner there and my daughter was born there too. We missed family and so wanted to move closer to the UK. I’d heard amazing things about Romania, especially the internet and the beautiful countryside and so began to research schools and it was evident that BSB had the best reputation.

How have you adapted to life in Bucharest?

We arrived during a strange time in our lives with COVID-19 and so adapting has been a little strange. Life in Europe has been lovely though. It’s been great being able to afford the basic things like cheese and milk again as these are really expensive in Asia and I enjoy the abundance of green space and parks which is what we love doing at the weekends. I see the strange times as a positive though because, in my view, things can only get better.

What are the biggest joys of being a Class Teacher?

My biggest joy is when I’m working with a child or a group of children and they’re listening to everything I say and soaking it all in and then, during me modelling a problem or explaining something they say ‘Ohhhhh, I get it now!’ For me, that’s the best bit about being a teacher.

How did your prior experiences at Millennium Primary School, Bangkok Patana School and at the International School of Brunei help you be a better teacher?

I really enjoyed my first two years teaching in London. I was in Year 6 and I enjoyed preparing the children for their end of year exams but the work/life balance can often be unsustainable in England. I knew that starting a family would be very hard in England and so I moved internationally. I didn’t know what to expect regarding International Schools and when I arrived in Bangkok I was blown away by the facilities and the amount of professional development that is concentrated towards teachers. It changed my thinking towards how a school should be run; if we want children to make progress then we need our teachers to be at their best. I have since thrown myself into learning more about how the brain works and the best ways of teaching different subjects and hopefully that will stay with me. I liken it to a heart surgeon; for a doctor to be effective, they must continually update what they know in order to carry out their job. Teachers must do the same, it's just that we work with brains and it’s probably a little messier too.

How do you help students develop a positive mindset about Mathematics?

By having a passion for the subject myself. I originally wanted to be a Secondary School Maths Teacher but I changed my application at the last second after working with Primary children in my local school. This passion for Maths then permeates in lessons.

I promise all my children that they are good mathematicians but it takes a while to find it. They also need to meet me halfway and I put the onus on them to learn their times tables at home. I firmly believe that if a child is fluent with their times tables in Year 4 then this has rippling effects for their confidence and then their progress and it’s an easy, accessible way into understanding Maths and numbers.

What strategies would you use to help students who struggle with Maths?

Modelling! I’ve read a few books on how to develop as a Maths teacher and I listen to a great podcast called ‘How I Wish I’d Taught Maths’ and the one thing I’ve taken from this is how best to model and explain different concepts. I make sure I do quality modelling in front of the class, breaking down each part and then getting the children to mirror this on a whiteboard. I slowly take away steps until they can do it independently. If they can, they then have time to practise and consolidate before moving onto more complex problems. I like to think all children struggle in EVERY Maths lesson. My class know that if they’re not struggling, they’re not learning because only when we have time to struggle do we have the opportunity to think.

What do you think are the most significant challenges that teachers are facing today?

This may be controversial but I think a big challenge is teachers themselves. Many teachers can think their way of doing things is the only right way and I’ve probably been guilty of this in the past. What I like about BSB is that teachers are trusted to teach their class in the way they think is best. This might be different to the teacher next door but often I’ve seen teachers that have been made to teach a certain way because of some latest fad and it’s hard doing something you don’t believe in and then the enthusiasm is lost. Teachers teach because they’re passionate and the challenge is making sure the passion stays there.

What is the most outstanding achievement you've had so far?

Sticking with the theme of education, it would be having a girl who was in the top 20 quickest times table recallers in the world. I introduced an amazing app to my last school called Times Table Rockstars. It uses an algorithm which works out which times tables children struggle with and it plans their multiplication journey for them. I developed a small league and knockout competitions but one girl was clearly gifted. I told her about a Guinness World Record attempt and although she didn’t get it, she was the fastest in the country and top 20 in the world, managing to answer three questions per second. That will always stand out for me.

If you weren't a Class Teacher, what would your dream job be?

A darts player. It’s my favourite sport and has been since I was young. At one time I had three dartboards in the house. It probably gave me a good sense of numbers as I used to have to quickly calculate my scores when playing with my Dad. I try to watch it as often as I can and I attend the big matches if I’m in England.

I can’t think of anything better than walking out to my favourite song and throwing a 180 in front of a crowd. It also means I can continue my love of eating chocolate and STILL be considered an athlete.

And finally: tell us something unexpected about yourself.

Before I became a teacher, I was on a TV show called Countdown. It was this appearance that accidentally led me to working in a local school, teaching children Maths. I often wonder, if I hadn’t been on would I still be a teacher. I was on the show a couple of times but an 82 year old woman called Beryl beat me and I’m still bitter to this very day.

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