Charles Lutwidge Dodgson tries school teaching

In October 1855 Charles Dodgson was appointed as a Lecturer in Mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford. Shortly after this he was invited to teach arithmetic to boys and girls at St Aldate's School which was nearby. He gave his first lesson on 29 January 1856 and we see from the entries in his diary that he found teaching school children a challenging task. We present below some of Charles Dodgson diary entries relating to his experiences in St Aldate's School:

29 January 1856

Breakfasted with Swabey [the Rev Henry Swabey was rector of St Aldate's, Oxford from 1850 to 1856] to arrange about teaching in his school [St Aldate's]. We settled that I come at 10 on Sunday, and at 2 on Tuesdays and Fridays to teach sums. I gave the first lesson there today, to a class of eight boys, and found it much more pleasant than I expected. The contrast is very striking between town and country boys; here they are sharp, boisterous, and in the highest spirits - the difficulty of teaching being, not to get an answer, but to prevent all answering at once. They seem tractable and in good order.

1 February 1856

The master at St Aldate's School asked if I would join the first class of girls with the boys. I tried it for today, but do not think they can be kept together, as the boys are much the sharpest. This made a class of 15. I went on with 'practice' as before.

5 February 1856

Varied the lesson a school with a story, introducing a number of sums to be worked out. I also worked for them the puzzle of writing the answer to an addition sum, when only one of the five rows have been written: this, and the trick of counting alternately up to 100, neither putting on no more than 10 to the number last named, astonished them not a little.

8 February 1856

The school class noisy and inattentive, the novelty of the thing is wearing off, and I find them rather unmanageable. Showed them the "9" trick of striking out a figure, after subtracting a number from its reverse.

11 February 1856

I taught them a little about fractions, and explained the trick of the addition sum.

15 February 1856

School class again noisy and troublesome. I have not yet acquired the art of keeping order.

19 February 1856

School class better, as I threatened to banish those who did not attend from the lesson.

26 February 1856

The class again noisy and inattentive; it is very disheartening, and I almost think I had better give up teaching there for the present.

29 February 1856

[I] left word at the school that I shall not be able to come again for the present. I doubt if I shall try again next term, the good done does not seem worth the time and trouble.

JOC/EFR May 2017

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