Meet Matthew Frazer, Mathematics Mastermind

Being a teacher wasn’t originally one of the things that Matthew Frazer grew up wanting to be. When he realised that Teaching gave him the opportunity to inspire young adults to love learning, it really was the best answer. 

Matthew has been part of our Calrossy Teaching team for two years and teaching for nine. Matthew has recently taken the Position of Director of Studies and we are very lucky to have his energetic enthusiasm in our Maths department. He takes his commitment to the wellbeing and happiness of our students very seriously behind his smile.  

Why did you decide to enter teaching as a career?
From a young age, I always respected good teachers. Teachers can have a profound impact on children's lives, and every child deserves the best chance possible to be happy. I decided to leave my previous career and enter the teaching profession when I was challenged by one of my own school teachers to consider how immensely challenging the work of a teacher is, but also how immensely important. Teaching concepts and ideas is only one part of my job, guiding our students to be happy in their future lives is another. 

Where did you study?

After finishing my schooling in Tamworth, I went to UNSW where I studied a Bachelor of Engineering (Software) and a Bachelor of Science (Mathematics). After working for a few years as a Software Engineer in some Sydney-based Research and Development firms, I returned to Macquarie University to get my Teaching Diploma, then came back home to Tamworth to start teaching.

What does your current job entail?

I’ve taken up the position of Director of Studies this year which involves a range of things mostly centred around the curriculum offered here at Calrossy. I’m responsible for overseeing the management of all the different subjects including core and electives, working with the Heads of each department. I also organise things like NAPLAN and the HSC, TAFE placements, Academic Reports and Parent Teacher nights, among other things.

How is your classroom arranged to optimise learning? How do you like to teach?

I believe the most effective learning is driven by questioning. I encourage curiosity and out-of-the-box thinking. I like to teach by asking questions, encouraging students to ask questions, and making a worthwhile question just as valued (or even more) than a correct answer. Many people say that in Maths there is only one correct answer, but there are a multitude of ways to think about every problem and get to the solution. 

What are your favourite types of lesson plans to create?
Lessons where students are able to discover a relationship directly through experimentation and observation. This gives them the chance to reason about what they have observed, which is a far more important outcome than memorising a method or formula. Integrated Mathematics lessons teach the critical-thinking principles that our students can use in other subjects and further beyond in their life. 

For you, what are the most exciting aspects of teaching and your work?
It is exciting working with students who are desperate to understand and ready to put in the effort to make the understanding happen. Success is not always easy to achieve, but when the commitment is there, it makes it much more fun to watch, help and teach. Maths can be a divisive subject; many say you either love it or you hate it. But it finds its uses in almost every pathway that people choose – Maths is not at its core about working with numbers, but about recognising, explaining and exploring patterns. 

Who has given you the most support in learning to be an effective teacher?
I would have to say my colleagues over the years. We have such a diverse range of teachers here at Calrossy from the preschool and prep all the way to the senior school.  There is no "perfect teacher", but we all have a range of strategies that work for different students. I know that adding new tools to my toolbox from other teachers has helped me improve. I also find that I learn a lot from my students, even if they don’t realise they are teaching me!

Who do you take inspiration from (famous or not) and why?

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki was an early inspiration for me, along with some other science communicators like Dean Hutton and Adam Spencer. Dr Karl is that guy in the bright Hawaiian shirts with the awesome sense of “Dad” humour. He found ways to explain complex concepts that were not only effective and informative, but entertaining to boot. Just what every teacher should aspire to! One of my favourite books as a child was “Pigeon Poo, the Universe and Car Paint” which explained how physicists found the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation by cleaning the pigeon poo off their radio telescope. 

How do you encourage involvement of students your classroom?
I try to make sure that every student has a time they feel able to be heard. This means that every student has times where they must also listen, to allow other students to be heard. When people feel they aren’t being heard, this can often create conflict and tension in our relationships – students, teacher and parents. 

What traits do you hope to inspire in your students? What do you wish for their future selves?
Never lose your inquisitiveness, curiosity or resilience in the face of challenge. Know that bad times will sometimes happen but they do not define you. God has made you just the way you are and He loves you. Take satisfaction with a job well done and always follow your motivation to find and pursue a passion. 

What do you think has been the most difficult challenge in your career?
Facing the criticisms or imposed requirements of people outside the teaching profession who believe (often sincerely) that they understand what works best in a classroom. Usually these people are only informed by their own singular experience as a student and yet expect every student and teacher to conform to this reality. Students, teachers and schools are all as varied as the people that make them up. There is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to a human being’s growth and development, and as painful as it is for a mathematician to say this, some things can’t be easily measured!

Is there anything further that you would like to add? 
Don't panic. Always know where your towel is. So long, and thanks for all the fish!

(Thank you Douglas Adams…)