I attended an exceptional Catholic secondary school, for boys. A few of the teachers were whites, Indians, and, some were from other African countries.
My first mathematics teacher when I was fourteen was a super-quiet woman. She’d come into the class, face the blackboard and continue with her computations. It was almost as if she was paid to teach the blackboard.
And, we were happy with that, because it meant that we could focus on reading the comics on our laps. She would go through the motions, then leave. Some boys did not even bother attending the class.
At a point, the school authorities were alarmed by our abysmally poor grades in mathematics. So, they changed our teacher. The new teacher was an exceptional guide. Decades after, I still remember him often. He was a fiery, stocky, hairy Indian. He was not just a great teacher; he was also a father-figure, who was genuinely concerned with our progress.
He has three children. Two boys and a girl. The boys were attending our school. One of the boys, naturally, was a maths genius. We eventually became a bit close. He would help me with cryptic sums and we later attended the same university. But, let’s go back to the father.
In his first class, he said that he has heard that most of us do not pay attention in class, or, that we even run away from maths class. He said that he won’t bother about those who run away, but that we must pay attention if we decide to attend his classes. Then he gave us a series of tests. Guess how we performed. We failed woefully.
It was at this point that he said what would be the essential sentence most of us remember him by. “Your brain is full of yams.” He said it in a thick Indian accent and was gently shaking his head in a rhythmic manner.
Later, he instructed us that we would all go back to the math text meant for class one, even though we were “big boys” in class 3! We didn’t like that, but we had no choice. We knew it was because we had failed, but we did not understand the rationale behind the “demotion.” Imagine the fun class one boys had when they discovered that we were now using the same maths text! And, much to our chagrin, he now instituted extra lessons on Saturdays!
His modus-operandi was different. He was not like the quiet, blackboard-teaching woman. He was loud. He was in your face. His presence had a visceral effect on one. You like him or hate him. It’s hard to be indifferent to him. Lest I forget, the aroma of Garlic became a welcome presence in our class. He would beat us often. But, most of us started attending his classes, because even if you disliked him, you had no choice but to accept the fact that he was deeply devoted to us and our progress.
He was not merely going through the motions like our previous teacher.
He encouraged us to study maths daily. Yes, daily. I think that’s one of the reasons why we made great progress. He demystified mathematics. The fact that he also took us “back to basics” is also a key factor, because the foundation is the most vital part of any edifice. In all spheres of life, the structure cannot be firm, alluring, or enduring if the foundation is defective.
Within a short time, a lot of us started seeing maths in a different light. It was obvious that our new teacher was a master at his discipline. He knew it very well and more importantly, he could teach it. Within a short time, our grades started improving and maths classes became something we looked forward to, not something we dreaded. We no longer read comics in maths class. We could not have been able to. Some of us even went on to the University to study courses that had substantial maths components.
So, when we recall our amazing transformation, it was largely due to an exceptional guide, an exceptional teacher. Who, above all was imbued with love for his profession and for us. He was devoted to excellence, and, we are privileged that we met, and were taught by such an inspirational figure.
Exceptional teachers transform lives!