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Things my maths teacher told me

Saturday February 11th, 2017 in School | No Comments »

Florence Nightingale

(The image shows a painting of Florence Nightingale holding a lamp.)

When I was in year 12 I wrote a ‘quote of the day’ in my school diary. Sometimes the quotes were from famous people like Oscar Wilde (he was terribly witty and sometimes it feels good to copy that stuff down with a pen). Sometimes the quote was something a friend had said.

The majority of my quotes of the day came from my maths teacher, Fletch.

27 January 1999: “It’s us against the rest of the state…up the front.”

On the first day of Year 12 Specialist Maths we sat at the back of the classroom (we were all maths nerds so it was our one chance). When Fletch came in he made us move to the front tables then gave us a motivational speech. He said the only way we country state school students could compete against the fancy private schools was to work together. We rolled our eyes and acted like it was stupid, but as the year went on we developed some top quality academic camaraderie, and just quietly, we did okay.

4 Febuary 1999: “We haven’t multiplied vectors yet. Shut up Rod.”

Fletch was a self-reflective teacher and kept up a running commentary on his performance as he taught. When he felt he’d made a wrong turn he told himself to shut up. Every time, I wrote it down.

10 March 1999: “I just thought I’d better tell you; I’m in Florence Nightingale mode.”

Fletch told us that when tackling a difficult maths problem you should be like Florence Nightingale holding her lantern. You can’t always see the whole path, but you can see where to take the next step. He returned to this analogy often and would sometimes mime holding a lantern while doing a difficult problem at the board.

The Florence Nightingale technique doesn’t just work for maths. I have found his advice useful in writing, life and drinking wine.

10 May 1999: “Aw bum, I mean sugar.”

Cute! He’d probably made a sign error.

16 August: “Go mg sin theta!”

Fletch told us he would shout “Go mg sin theta” as he rode his bike downhill during his school days. The best maths teachers are born, not made.

13 October 1999: “I just want to vomit. Not for you, but for the injustices of the world.”

When he said this to our class, Fletch was talking about inconsistencies in maths symbolism. No, not East Timor. Maths symbols.

I’m not sure if we appreciated Fletch enough at the time. I remember rolling my eyes at his daggy anecdotes. One time no-one in the class would examine the interesting way the light from the window was hitting the chalk on the blackboard, even when Fletch repeatedly peered at it, told us how interesting it was, and invited us to come and look. Sometimes when he asked almost rhetorically, ‘What’s the square root of 16?’ Someone would answer, ‘Four’ just to see him go apoplectic, ‘PLUS OR MINUS FOUR!’

Far and away the best maths teacher I’ve ever had.

At the end of year 12 we gave him a lantern.


Friday January 30th, 2015 in School | No Comments »

Penny head shotI read an article about bullying today that I really liked.

“The world isn’t neatly divided into bullies and the bullied; all victims conceal sins, and all villains carry sorrows and scars.”

I try to write about characters who sometimes do genuinely crap things because I have done crap things that I regret. I was a nerd at school, and people were mean to me. But equally, I was mean to other people. And at other times I did nothing while things I didn’t agree with unfolded.

I was lucky. I was never physically hurt and on the whole I enjoyed school and had good friends. But there were still some experiences that are hard for me to think about now.

Looking back on my time at school, I’d say I need to forgive and be forgiven in about equal measure. Below is a selection of incidents I remember but there were others too.

Bad things I did

  • In Year 8 I told a boy with a ponytail that he had to cut his hair or he couldn’t keep sitting with our group. People were teasing him for being different and I didn’t want that to reflect on me. Luckily, he didn’t listen to me. He didn’t cut his hair, he kept sitting with our group. I have apologised to him.
  • In Year 7 I told girl we didn’t like her and we didn’t want her to sit with our group. I felt bad when I saw I’d hurt her feelings but I convinced myself that being ‘honest’ was actually a noble thing to do. She left our group. She is an hilarious and clever person who I realised too late would have been an amazing friend.

Bad things done to me

  • On the bus to school a girl and a boy regularly sat behind me and shook the seat while discussing how ugly I was. It was very hard to keep reading Middlemarch while that went on.
  • Another girl on the bus threatened to bash me up every day for a month. I knew she had a horrible family life and pretty grim prospects. Feeling sorry for her made it a little easier to deal with, but I was still terrified. She never touched me.
  • On multiple occasions I was kicked out of a group. In Year 7, three of my friends ran away from me. Literally ran away. They might have had their reasons, but I refused to let them escape. I chased them. When I caught up with them it was a little awkward because they wouldn’t acknowledge they’d been trying to drop me. We all panted for a bit until we got our breath back then they’d bolt off again with me in close pursuit. Ultimately, I was too quick for them and stayed in the group.

Times when I did nothing

There were times when I wasn’t the victim or the bully.

  • A girl at our school was sexually assaulted. I overheard two boys discussing it on the bus. One of them said, ‘It must have been dark’, and they both laughed. I was furious. I wanted to turn around and yell at them. I said nothing.
  • In Year 8 people would routinely taunt one of the unpopular boys until he snapped and got angry and violent. I felt uncomfortable but I watched and maybe laughed and did nothing to stop it.

Something I’m proud of

  • In Year 9 some girls started teasing me about being a lesbian. I refused to respond, which made it worse. A friend said, ‘Why don’t you just say it’s not true?’ I said, ‘Because if I deny it, I’ll be saying there’s something wrong with being gay.’

That’s character. Shame about the other stuff.