What it’s like being a teacher

Joe Bezzina gives us his perspective in this interview
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I am Joe Bezzina, 29 years old. My everyday work revolves around mathematics as I am a lecturer of pure mathematics at St. Aloysius College, Sixth Form.
Tell us about your career. How did you get into teaching? How did you get to where you are today? 
I developed a love for mathematics when I was studying the subject at advanced level. As I delved deeper into the subject I came to appreciate the rather concise nature of the subject, the aesthetic aspect involved in constructing a logical argument in the form of a solution to a problem and the constant need to think rationally without giving in to the assumptions which present themselves rather attractively as part of (or as an ultimate) solution to a problem.
What do you enjoy most about your career? 
Personally, the most enjoyable aspect of my career is to be able to play an important role in an individual’s rational and logical development. At the start of a course I meet students who won’t even know how to construct an argument rationally and logically, despite the fact that they had obtained good academic grades in their previous ordinary level exams. At the end of their first year you can observe that most of them have developed their thinking skills. They start thinking at a higher order, as they use reason and logic, eliminate assumptions although they keep on presenting themselves as a feasible solution or part of it and above all they develop an enjoyment in studying the subject.
What has been your personal key to success? 
Depends on what is understood by success. If the benchmark to a teacher’s success is the number of students who pass an exam, well that is not much of a success. Even a mediocre teacher can have a good exam success track record, it suffices that he/she is a good coach.
As far as I’m concerned I measure my success by the respect that the students show to their teacher. If a teacher earns the respect of his students then that means that he/she is doing a good job. This does not only concern the teaching of a subject, but all other aspects of education, such as values and beliefs, even if these are delivered unintentionally. Students notice when their teacher constantly fails in doing what is expected of him/her. This results in lack of respect towards that teacher which most commonly manifests itself in disruptive behavior during lectures lessons.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job? 
As I teach high achieving students I consider most challenging the fact that I constantly have to meet their expectations and deliver a challenging lesson in such a way that they do not feel demotivated.
There is the idea that teaching high achievers is plain sailing and fairly easy. However one has to appreciate that when teaching high achievers the teacher is always under test. You cannot go inside a classroom unprepared because sometimes you will find that your students have already read about a topic and already grasped the basics.
Best tip for a novice teacher? 
Never enter a classroom unprepared and do your job to the best of your abilities. Take control of your students’ behavior. Start off by being firm and strict (almost annoying) but always be fair. In time students will come to appreciate these qualities. This will earn you their respect and they will cooperate knowing that you mean business but above all understanding that you are doing all this just for the sake of their success.