Mr Henry Bertram's #teachereffect at St Mary's

Mr Henry Bertram's #teachereffect at St Mary's

We want to spend this year celebrating some of our teaching staff who help make St Mary’s School, Cambridge such an inspiring place for girls to learn and flourish. We call it the #teachereffect.

Sadly, we can’t cover all our teaching staff; however, we will be showcasing several over this year in many diverse areas and from across the school, from our Junior School to our Sixth Form. We continue our series with Mr Henry Bertram, who teaches Maths at our Senior School.

When did you start at St Mary’s?

I started at St Mary's in September 2018, having previously been at Long Road Sixth Form.

What did you do before you joined?

Quite a few different things! I studied Music at Cambridge, then spent a year working at King's Ely. I worked in the school during the day and the boarding house in the evenings. I have so many fond memories of playing table tennis and other games with the boarders, and I was lucky to have so many amazing colleagues who made it an immensely positive experience. After King's Ely, I worked in the marketing team for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London.

The orchestra played concerts at Cadogan Hall, the Southbank Centre and at the Royal Albert Hall. One part of my job was working front-of-house with the team during concerts, and so one of the highlights was getting to go backstage at the RAH, and seeing all the concerts from great seats. Ultimately, though, I started to miss working with students in a school environment. I also really missed living in Cambridge, so I came back here to do my PGCE in 2014. I have lived and worked in the area since then. Although my teacher training was in music, I started teaching Maths during that year too. In my first school (Herts & Essex) I taught a bit of both; at Long Road and St Mary's I've just done Maths. I'm now coming to the end of my fifth year of teaching.

Were you always interested in teaching Maths? What fuelled that interest and why that subject and area?

I have always loved maths, but being a Maths teacher didn't really occur to me until I was one! 

I think what fuelled my interest in Maths (as well as Music) was a love of order and patterns. Music is often seen as a 'creative' subject, while Maths perhaps less so. But there are many similarities. When you compose a piece of music, you'll be aware of the patterns and conventions of a particular style, and you'll write it down using appropriate notation. Similarly in Maths, to investigate a pattern or idea, you need to be aware of the rules of conventions of a particular field of maths (for example geometry or algebra), and you need to be able to communicate it using appropriate notation. 

Maths becomes much more creative the further you go with it. It's not just a set of rules – it is more like a language which enables us to describe and understand the world around us. For example, the shape of a snail's shell, the structure of a snowflake... Romanesco broccoli... and plenty of other amazing and beautiful things that appear in nature. In some cases there are some really unexpected links – for example, when you circle all the odd numbers in Pascal's triangle you get a pattern which also appears in mosaic designs from nearly a thousand years ago. I think that good mathematicians are curious about the world and enjoy finding answers to puzzling questions.

What have been your highlights of working at St Mary’s?

One of my favourite memories in the classroom was when I made an 'escape room' for my Year 9s. It was so much fun watching them work even harder than normal (because there was chocolate involved). But they also really entered into the spirit of the somewhat tenuous narrative I had created, and humoured me while I showcased my tragic acting skills.

Outside lessons, I have really enjoyed working with my colleagues in the Maths department, as well as spending time with my form and my co-tutor Miss Powell. Trips such as Bletchley Park, playing piano for Cantore and Year 7 Choir, concerts at West Road, being part of the Chicago band last year, and taking part in various other dance routines with the other male teachers – all of these have been major highlights.

Why do you enjoy teaching? 

When I was at university I didn't know I was going to become a teacher, and I certainly would not have guessed when I was back in school. But I happen to be here now mainly because of trying out some different jobs and seeing what I liked. I think I've done lots of different jobs for someone my age. Each one has had some elements which suited me, and some which didn't. For instance, when I'm left to my own devices, I tend to be quite a solitary person.

Teaching is really good for me as I get to talk to lots of people every day. So, most of all, I like the social aspect of teaching. I also have the freedom to try out new things, and when I get time, I can learn new things and improve my subject knowledge.

In your opinion what are the benefits of teaching Maths in an all-girls environment?

This is the second all-girls school I have worked in, and both have been really supportive environments. Teaching is a 'giving' profession, and the staff certainly give a lot to the students in the form of academic and pastoral support. At St Mary's, the girls give a lot to each other, and they also give a lot back to us. They are really receptive in lessons and they appreciate what is provided to them.

When we are in school it can be easy to forget this – as one class leaves, another comes in and one has to move on quickly. But in lockdown, with our slightly shorter remote lessons, I have had time to read all the thank you messages in the chat window at the end of the lesson. There are constant reminders that the students are thankful for their education and for their interactions with staff.

What do you like to do in your free time when you are not teaching?

Most people who know me could not have failed to hear about my obsession with origami (for inspiration I like looking at designs by Eric Gjerde and Alessandro Beber). I also like drawing, writing poetry, and writing raps. Over the last couple of months I have really enjoyed relaxing, cooking, and spending time with my family in the virtual world – playing video games with my brothers, or having poker and quiz nights with my family online.

What advice do you have for all the students you have taught – past and present – to help them on their journey in life!

Try not to worry too much about your future. It is good to have goals to work to, but it's totally OK not to have your life mapped out entirely! You don't have to do one thing forever. If you try something out, and you don't like it, then make a change and do something different for a while! If you aren't sure what to study at university, which apprenticeship you should apply for, what career you want to pursue, or even what country you want to live in – do what you think will make you happiest, not what you think everyone else wants you to do.