Meet the Maths Tutor: Nicola Rosen

Meet the Team

The end of the year is looming, and the Mentor team have come over all nostalgic of late: we’ve been  looking back over 2018 and celebrating all the amazing things our tutors have achieved. It was a particular delight, therefore, to sit down and reminisce with Nicola Rosen, one of our most lauded mathematics tutors. Keep reading to learn more about Nicola!

Name: Nicola Rosen

Location: Muswell Hill, London

You are one of Mentor’s most experienced teachers. How did you first become involved with tutoring?

I first started tutoring when my own children were small, as I wanted to keep up my skills whilst having more time for the family.

You have taught mathematics for 17 years in both independent and state schools. What continues to inspire you about the subject?

I am interested in how children acquire an understanding of mathematical concepts.  The teaching of maths has changed beyond recognition whilst I have been in the profession and I think that it has altered for the better (for the most part!).  The emphasis is now on understanding why  we do what we do rather than just simply copying algorithms and repeating them many times over.  I enjoy the ‘lightbulb’ moments when they come: when children have been wrestling with an idea for some time and it suddenly all makes sense.

During your time as Head of Mathematics at Hereward House School, you taught many students who would eventually accept places at top schools like Eton, Winchester, Westminster and St Paul’s. What challenges did you face when helping students to prepare for their various entrance examinations, and how have these influenced your approach as a tutor?

Firstly, I would have to be very careful that the pupils did not see a practice paper too early, as it could frighten them off the whole idea.  Instead, we would work on building up their understanding of the topics.  Mathematics is a building block subject in that you have to understand the initial concepts very well before moving up the curriculum. We also introduced problem solving very early so that pupils learnt to see mathematical problems as puzzles to be solved. We would encourage them to discuss different methods with others in a collaborative way. The practice papers would only be given when I was sure that they could make a good stab at it. As a tutor the approach is the same but material can be better targeted.

Best moments as a tutor?

When a pupil received a Queen’s Scholarship to Westminster; and when a pupil who has real difficulties with maths said to me recently that ‘actually maths is quite fun’.

Do you think every student has the chance to be successful, given the right support?

Absolutely. I believe that – given the right help and encouragement – every child has the ability to succeed in maths.  Clearly it is a subject that comes easily to some more than to others; but as a child moves through their school career, it is application that is more important than innate ability (in the long run).

But it’s not all about exam results. What other important things does private tutoring offer a budding student?

Tutoring brings with it the ability to move at the pace of that one child, rather than having to teach to the middle ground.  Also, you can improve their confidence by tailoring the materials to just their ability at that time.

You recently returned from two years of teaching in Nairobi. What motivated you to teach abroad, and what did you take away from this experience?

My husband and I had wanted to travel abroad for a while, and it was the act of visiting our son in Kenya that gave us the idea of working in Nairobi.  The single most important thing I learnt is how precious a good education is – and how in the West we must not take it for granted.

What does a typical day look like in the world of Nicola Rosen?

It may start with a run around Highgate Woods followed by a good breakfast reading the paper.  I would then answer emails and do my preparation for my lessons for later.  Some days I am able to indulge my hobbies, such as: singing lessons with City Lit; singing in a local choir; gardening; or just meeting friends.

And finally, Nicola, tell us: if you had to pick one book to share with a tutee, which one would it be?

A book that is great for primary-aged pupils would be Challenge Your Pupilswhich is published by the Mathematical Association.  This book has a series of steadily more tricky problems which can be fun for children who like problems.

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