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The Mathematics of smiles

March 22, 2015
The Mathematics of Smile

‘What do I have to do to become a Mathematics teacher like you?’

I still remember the time I asked this question to one of my favourite teachers who happened to be my best friend’s mom too.

‘What subject would you like to teach?’ she had asked.

‘Mathematics’, I had replied confidently.

She smiled. I smiled too. She had been teaching me Mathematics in middle school. It was she and her way of teaching that had kindled my interest in the subject which most children are afraid of.

‘You need to be at least a graduate in Mathematics to be a teacher and then if you want you can study for post-graduation and higher degrees too’, she guided me smilingly. A degree in Education was desirable but not an essential qualification for teachers then.

‘Do I need to study science too to be a teacher of Mathematics?’ I distinctly remembered having asked her.

I am sure I was too young to have developed a strong notion for or against studying science but I did have apprehensions about dissecting live cockroaches and frogs that were done at the higher secondary level.

‘No, not necessarily, you can opt for economics or any other combination available in college’, she informed me. This bit of information made me smile and I felt happy and relieved as my dream to become a Mathematics teacher without pursuing the dissection of frogs and cockroaches.

Thus, I guess even a seemingly minor bit of information helps us chase and achieve our dreams to bring happiness and smiles our way!

During all these years of teaching Mathematics I have been trying to help my students to get rid of the fear of the subject.

Happiness, they say, comes in small packages.

‘Good morning ma’am,’ I heard a voice when I was at work in my office in the college one day.

I looked up and was pleasantly surprized to see a young woman smiling at me. She was one of my students whom I had taught more than ten years back. I had not seen her since then. She had settled in US and was now visiting India for her marriage. She had specially come to invite me for her wedding. We sat and chatted for quite some time.

‘You remembered when I was crying in the class?’ she asked.

‘Yes, I do. You were very nervous then,’ I said and continued, ‘and I am happy to see you so confident now.’

‘It is all because of you, ma’am’, she replied and smiled. I could sense the feeling of appreciation in her voice. This was one of the happiest moments that made me smile.

She then fondly recalled the times when I had taught Mathematics and helped her to have a smooth transition from studying Mathematics through Hindi medium to English medium.

Similar small gestures of my old students visiting me personally or getting connected through any social media and expressing their love, affection and gratitude towards me make me smile and proud of my students.

An intense feeling of inexpressible happiness takes over and makes me smile when they let me know that my teaching Mathematics did help them getting over their fear of Mathematics and climb the ladder of success whether in pursuing higher education or in their career.

A big smile of contentment and happiness is inevitable for me when my students share their success stories with me.

No, these are not the only times when I feel happy and smile. But, here I am sharing only those moments that had been connected to my teaching of Mathematics.

Thus, for me, being a teacher there had been moments when unexpectedly someone sees, recognises and comes to me and greets me in a public place and announces to their kids proudly that it was me who had taught him/her Mathematics. Or in a social gathering people introducing me to their children would say, ‘Aunty has done PhD in Mathematics.’

The expression of awe and admiration on the faces of those little kids and children makes me smile, enthuse me to teach Mathematics with a greater and strengthened resolve to make my students get over the fear of Mathematics and make them smile too!

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Sangita Passey
22 March 2015

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