The joys of mathematics: a maths autobiography

I read a blog post Math autobiographies” by Kent Haines, a middle school math teacher in the US, who wanted to know more about his students, and I thought I should write my own maths autobiography and share with you.

If I was to write it, this is how it would be:

Dear Maths,
When I was a child and in primary two I had a friend, Jubril, who was the best academic student and everyday after school we walked home together and I used to marvel at his intelligence and academic excellence; for teachers showed him lots of affections. So there was a day I asked him how it was possible that he was so brilliant in school and what I could do to get better – for I was a struggling student. Jubril told me that every time I get home after school I should rehearse whatever we’ve learnt in school that day and because maths was the only subject that I could easily rehearse with little or no support from an adult I took to it. I asked my mum to get me papers to work with and she used to bring home some plain yellow and at times white papers used in wrapping x-ray films from work for me to use and I used them to practice maths questions over and over again.

As I got older I became more interested in maths and it became a daily routine during my primary and secondary school education period. You see I was fortunate I had my afterschool teacher, Mr. Kehinde, who was passionate about teaching. He started teaching me when I was around age five before I started formal schooling. Under him we learnt many things that my childhood memories cannot really remember now but I do remember that he was a passionate teacher and we – students – had to attend the afterschool with our individual’s bench on our heads, a small black slate and some pieces of chalk to write with.

Back to my maths experience, by the time I got into junior secondary school maths was already my best subject. In my first year in junior secondary school I had a maths teacher, Mr. Etuk, he was very hardworking, very neat and had a lovely handwriting. He taught with passionate and was always punctual and always took his time to explain maths concepts to us in class. By the time I got to my second year in junior secondary school, I had Mr Akande as my maths teacher whom I think was the worst maths teacher that I think I came across in all my compulsory education life. I can’t remember much about being in lessons apart from the fact that my results were woeful by the second term and I had my worst failure experience in all of my educational life in that term. As fate would have it in my third year I had a different maths teacher, Mr Popoola, who brought back the joys of mathematics to my life.

In between my mathematics ordeals in junior secondary school, there was my afterschool maths teacher, Mr. Rotimi, he was a very committed and passionate maths teacher. He seemed like someone who struggled with the idea that anyone could struggle to understand maths. He taught with grace, persistence and hope that every child under him in his lessons would understand and love maths and to the best of my knowledge this he was able to achieve. Because even at the time I was experiencing my abyss of failure in my second year in junior secondary school, my maths result didn’t falter like my results in other subjects.

By the time I got to senior secondary school we didn’t have a maths teacher and I can remember that throughout my three years in senior secondary school we only had a single lesson of one hour with a maths teacher in my secondary school. I only made do with self and peer studies and afterschool support by Mr Adesanya, who was a Chemistry teacher in a different school but allowed me into his home and would spend time with me teaching me maths and further maths. At the end of my secondary school education, we had a regional terminal examination that covered many countries in West Africa, I was able to come out with a distinction.

Whenever I look back at my days as a student in compulsory education and my love for maths, I consider myself to be fortunate to have come across so many positive maths role models. I have always found maths to be fun because I could always relate the worked examples with the tasks I was solving and also I knew that if I answer any question in the textbook I could always check up the answers at the back pages of the textbook or if I was still stuck, I could seek assistance from an adult or a classmate. I loved Algebra and whenever students complain about it I always wondered why someone would struggle with it but I think every child needs a moment of epiphany in maths to love it, mine was a day when there was an intense rivalry that related to a maths question.

Some of my schoolmates – friends – had been arguing about who was the better maths student between a classmate of mine and myself, this was without my knowledge and they had identified a maths problem that they felt was too hard for either of the two of us to solve and they presented the question to both of us to solve, it was like an arm wrestling competition. I was able to solve the question – by chance – while my other classmate was not able to but to my other schoolmates it meant I was truly and really good at maths while to me it was just a chance occurrence that I could solve the question. That event in retrospection brought some of the joys of my love for the repetitiveness and procedural nature of maths, and those are the two key attributes to me that lead to unlocking the secrets of mastering maths.

Lastly, I have to say that when I was in secondary school I struggled with geometry and I always thought it was too abstract and I couldn’t get to understand it not until I ended up working with children in secondary education maths that I realised that it was far easier than I had always imagined. And if I was to choose my best maths teacher – which is a tough decision – I would have to say it was Mr Rotimi, for his consistency, passion and belief in me.

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