I am a fun-loving, somewhat nerdy (in the coolest way possible) wife, mother, dog trainer, teacher and edupreneur. I consider myself a passionate Mathematician and lifelong learner of the subject.
However, it was not always that way.
I remember the defining moment in my school career when I decided that Maths was not my thing. I was in Grade 3. The teacher was explaining long division by using the mnemonic “daddy, mommy, sister, brother” to help us remember the steps, namely divide, multiply, subtract and bring down.
Well, I could not fathom how a family could in any way be related to Maths, so I did what any reasonable kid would do with such cognitive dissonance. I shut off. I relegated Maths to that part of my brain where boring nonsensical rules and irrelevant facts are stored, and that is where it stayed, for a very long time. In fact, most of my school reports from that point on read something like this: “Tammy excels in English, art and music, but still struggles to grasp Maths concepts.”
I decided very early on that I did not have a “Maths brain”.
I liked getting good marks, so I learned how to work the system, identify different types of questions and memorise rules and procedures. I managed to keep my marks up until I reached Grade 11. That was when everything Maths-related fell apart and I realised that I needed help. If you are reading this and are in Grade 11 or you are a parent of such a pupil, you might relate when I say that the content in this grade comes fast and furiously. The questions too, are more complex, and require problem-solving skills. My 15-year-old self (I was a year young for the grade) did not have those skills. I started scraping 50s. Thankfully my mom invested in a life-changing tutor. Every week an old, wise, retired Maths teacher would come to my home and we would talk Maths. He showed me how to visualise concepts, how different aspects of the subject fit together like a puzzle, and how to summarise the content in huge, artistic mind maps in my art book.
He made Maths come alive for me!
I will never forget the role he played in moulding the person I am today. Not only did my marks improve, but I began to love Maths. It became my subject. Something that I could see, feel and relate to, even though I was labeled as more arty and musical, rather than mathematical, by nature.
After finishing high school, I tried my hand at a BSc Financial Maths degree at the University of Johannesburg, but soon changed to a BSc in Maths and Psychology, as I did not enjoy Accounting. I settled well into my Maths courses, achieving 100% for my first pure Maths exam and maintaining distinctions for all my subjects thereafter, except for Sign Language (don’t ask). At the beginning of my third year I changed some of my subjects and converted my degree to a BEd in Maths and Psychology so that I could head more directly on the path of becoming a teacher. During my time at university I pursued my interest in musical theatre by joining the university’s Song and Dance Company. I immersed myself in residence activities and joined and ran committees. It was an enriching time in my life. I graduated top BEd student and won the Complex Analysis prize (for my performance in an undergraduate course on complex numbers).
I went on to do a BEd Honours degree in Higher and Adult Education, and took some Maths Honours courses just for fun. I then graduated top BEd Honours student.
I got my first job in the University of Johannesburg’s Maths Department by eavesdropping. I was still an Honours student at the time and overheard the head of department and a lecturer discussing a course for which they needed to hire another lecturer. The requirements were that the lecturer should have a Masters degree as well as a background in business. You see, the job was to teach Mathematics for Business and Economics. I had no such credentials and absolutely no business background. So of course I approached the head of department and applied for the job. And by some divine intervention, I got it. I studied up on the subject and proved myself to be a worthy junior lecturer. I then went on to teach a second course, Maths for Teachers, which I had to teach in both English and Afrikaans.
This was a challenge, but as with everything in my life, I was realising that I would need to embrace things for which I felt neither qualified, gifted, nor prepared.
After getting quite ill, I decided to leave lecturing, and my Masters degree, which I was doing at the time. I spent the holiday recovering, and then entered the world of teaching. I have had the privilege of teaching a variety of learners in private and government schools in Johannesburg and Cape Town – kids with special needs, learners who had almost given up due to low marks and anxiety, top achievers, and those who just needed someone to believe in them. I have worked closely with educational psychologists to tailor Maths learning programmes for individual pupils. I have also mentored other teachers, and been involved in research and professional development projects. Wherever I have landed up, I have made it a deliberate goal to seek out and learn from expert teachers, and am privileged to call them my mentors.
During my seven years lecturing and teaching, I married my awesome husband, moved house four times, gave up riding horses competitively, got a Golden Retriever (named Riley), started training dogs, welcomed our foster son into the family, and fell pregnant with a very special future Mathematician (if I have anything to do with it). My journey, right from being a confused and disillusioned Grade 3 pupil, to becoming an accomplished and experienced Maths teacher, speaks of struggle, overcoming boundaries, and the testimony of having a plan and purpose for my life that is so much bigger than my abilities and self-imposed beliefs about myself.
Today I can boldly say that I am a “non-mathematical” Mathematician.
Because of my past, I can relate when a pupil struggles. I am passionate about finding ways to help others see, learn and understand Maths in ways that make sense to them.I started My Maths Mentor to make a difference in the lives of pupils and parents who need someone to walk alongside them on their Maths journey, just like my tutor and mentors did with me. I no longer work at a school, but rather devote my time to tutoring, developing online courses for school and university students, and teaching Advanced Programme Maths.
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