Bob Vertes became a tutor with The Open University in November of 1970. We caught up with him as he starts his 50th year of OU service.
“My attention was drawn to The Open University whilst I was studying for my PGCE. I saw an advert looking for maths tutors and a month later I was hired; 49 years later, I’m still a tutor.”
Born in Budapest, Hungary, both Bob’s parents were Holocaust survivors who met and married after the war.
“To my mother’s surprise, she became pregnant and I came along in April 1948. In 1956 there was a big revolution in Hungary and an increase in anti-Semitic behaviour. My mother didn’t want to risk staying in case things escalated, so we moved to the UK. Two years later I managed to pass the 11 plus; in a language I hadn’t studied until I reached the UK.”
“Teaching has been my life”
“From the first day at primary school I knew I wanted to be a teacher. My mum was not convinced; she said “yes, tomorrow a train driver and the next day a doctor….” I stuck to that idea, and that was it. I knew if I had a gift, it was as a teacher and teaching has been my life.”
Bob started his first official job as a teacher in September 1970 and his contract with the OU started two months later.
I wanted to make a difference
“Working for the OU appealed to me for a combination of reasons; it was opportunities to learn more, to learn to teach better, but also make a difference.”
“It was clear that the OU’s methods and approaches were pioneering, particularly their investigative approach to mathematics, and that sounded really exciting. I thought it would help me develop as a better teacher.”
“I also thought this would be doing a little bit of – how shall I put it – good work, social service enabling people to become better qualified. A lot of people who would otherwise would not have gone to university, because they had to work, were going to take on OU studies.”
“Both my parents worked multiple jobs, so I grew up with the expectation that I would do the same. The amount of work I do for the OU varies across the year, but it averages around 12 hours a week; roughly what it would take a student to study a 30 credit course.”
“I started as an OU tutor before I met my wife. In the old days, before we had email, I used to keep in touch with my students by telephone quite a lot. She did feel that the telephone was overused, so with a little ‘wifely encouragement’ I adjusted the hours students could contact me!”
What’s in a name…?
“My official job title with the OU is Associate Lecturer, but I call myself an Open University tutor, as do my students. My role was previously called Tutor Counsellor. The two elements are more split now, with the pastoral, counselling element being dealt with more by the Student Support Teams. They are better positioned to give specialist pastoral advice; particularly around disability support or difficult personal circumstances”.
“I still have an element of pastoral support; which I think is really important. Sometimes distance studying can be very overwhelming, so it’s helpful to be able to have a two way conversation with students- particularly around planning and organisation.”
“I have had a range of different experiences with the OU over the years, all of which have been great learning experiences. As well as being a maths tutor, I’ve also been a tutor for PGCEs and taught some maths education courses. I was apparently the first person ever filmed by the BBC and OU teaching a whole class. Up until then all the education programmes showing teaching had been with small groups, but for the Developing Mathematical Thinking course they came into my school. I was a tutor on the module and wrote a chapter in the course textbook.”
Innovative teaching methods
“A fantastic strength of the OU, since it began, has been the brilliant textbooks, resources and materials. There were lots of jokes made about all these men with beards and funny jackets doing late night TV programmes, but alongside that students would have exercises to do and textbooks to work through. For maths these were around exploring the maths and trying to make it your own, rather than learning by rote, which was the norm at the time.”
“The OU really pushes the idea of methods being more important than answers. It was typical in schools for a while that if you made a mistake then the teachers would usually give you zero. When GCSEs came in, so did the concept of awarding marks for the follow through of methods. The OU’s marking has always used follow through which I think is a great way of reinforcing what you have done right.”
“Things have changed a lot since I started and the biggest change I’ve seen is the use of IT- particularly in terms of teaching methods, with the use of PowerPoint presentations and online computer graphics packages. I have had to learn to do marking online and to deliver tuition online. We also have online forums where students can access additional support. Previously I would have fortnightly face to face contact with my students, for which I’d have prepared hard copy handouts for the students. I still hold face to face tutorials and exam revision sessions, but these are much fewer than before; there’s a definite shift towards online tutorials.”
“I’ve made a difference to people’s lives”
“Outside of the OU, I spent 15 years teaching in school and as head of maths. I then became an advisory teacher, as I didn’t want to be a head teacher. I moved into teacher education and had a wonderful 24 years doing that. Even since my supposed retirement I’m still active in teacher education.”
“I am so grateful to the OU.
I loved learning and teaching mathematics and the OU’s made me better at doing my day job as a teacher, because it gave me a different way to think about it. I loved the opportunity to become a better teacher, and to help people become better teachers themselves.
I’m pleased to have made a difference to lots of people’s lives. I’m hoping to get to 50 years of service, and continue beyond!”