Aftermath: Farewell to two wonderful maths teachers

From our undercover correspondent

This July, pupils and staff at St. Michael’s School will bid farewell to two well-loved members of the mathematics department: Brian Medhurst and Wendy Birchenough. They are both retiring after lengthy teaching careers.

Mr. Brian Medhurst

“There are two cats sitting on a sloping roof. Which one slips off first?" That’s the sort of question some of my pupils have had to contend with over the years. And it’s been a lot of years. My first appointment was at St. Bartholomew’s School in Newbury, where I started in 1972. I suppose I must have liked it because I stayed for 28 years. I started as a maths and science teacher but the science was soon dropped. In the early 1990s, I was head of the Maths and Computing faculty for a few years before becoming involved in writing the timetable a big job in a school with 1,600 pupils and then getting it computerised for the first time.

I left St. Bart’s in 2000. My wife Cathy and I went to China in August to see our son Richard who was working there, and then, in November, to Sydney to visit our other son James. I had several small jobs over the next couple of years before coming to St. Michael’s in January 2002, although, for a time, I taught part-time at both St. Michael’s and Padworth School.

When I came for my interview at St. Michael’s, I remember the place was deserted and I had to hunt around to find anyone. In the end I found a priest on his hands and knees in one of the corridors, nailing down lino. “I’m looking for Father Dreher,” I said. “I’m Father Dreher,” he replied. And so my time at St. Michael’s began.

So I’ve been at the school for over 14 years now. It has been a very happy time. There’s a lot less red tape than in other schools, and of course smaller classes reduce the workload. And I have to add that my pupils have been exemplary—well, most of them!

My main ambition when I teach is for my pupils, regardless of their ability, to enjoy mathematics. So when it comes to my achievements I’m naturally pleased with the As and A*s grades my best pupils have gained, both at GCSE and A-level, but at the same time I’m delighted to nurse the less academic pupils to their C-grade passes. In my time at St. Michael’s, I’ve only had one student who didn’t make it to a C grade or above at GCSE (he got a D).

St. Michael’s is a great place to teach and no doubt I shall miss it when I leave.

Oh and, which cat slips off first? It is the one with the smallest μ (mew) of course, μ being the coefficient of friction!”

Mrs. Wendy Birchenough

Mrs. Birchenough began her teaching career in 1975. Before she came to St. Michael’s in 2011, she taught A-Level Economics, was Head of Business Studies and helped to run the maths department at St. Bartholomew's School.

She says her main achievement has been to help boys to reach their full potential in GCSE mathematics, and adds that it has been a privilege to teach such marvellous boys.

St. Michael's School is an exceptional school in so many different ways. It is not only an academic school, but it encourages the boys to respect each other and be thoughtful. The boys are very open and accept each other's strengths and weaknesses and I have always found them extremely respectful. They gain so much from the school which will help them have a happy and successful life.

"St. Michael's is very fortunate to have such a versatile and intelligent Headmaster leading the school. This makes it a pleasant school to work in.

May God bless them both for their wonderful service.

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