my500words day 8 : The Maths Lesson

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The Maths Lesson

One of the prerequisites of learning is having an open mind. With a closed mind there is little incentive to learn at all and it will make learning anything extremely difficult.


When I was a kid, probably about 7 or 8 years old, I had a maths teacher. I don’t recall his face or his features, but I do remember that he was a small and thin man and had an angry red face. His face was contorted into a permanent frown and his voice boomed like a fog horn, that made me cringe at the time, and mentally, even now.

He had a very unique and particular style of teaching. Obsessed with the multiplication tables, most of his lessons would consist of us reciting them like little robots, time, after time, after time.

Long before the age of electronics, these would have been of the clockwork variety and wound so tightly it would have been impossible to wind them further.

I don’t know why, but he always started with the five times table.

He would stand just to the side of the blackboard and write a number using a white powdery chalk stick that would squeak as it traced over the slate.

Five times one is five.

After one of the pupils had recited this to his satisfaction, he would take a large duster, and erase the number, leaving a faint chalky cloud on the blackboard.

Five times two is ten.

If the early morning sunlight was peeking through the windows of the classroom I could even follow the chalk dust as it drifted slowly to the floor.

There were any number of other entertaining distractions, if I felt so inclined, and absolutely anything was less tedious than concentrating on the multiplication tables.

Five times three is fifteen.

It was so tempting to let my mind wander, and to leave the classroom as my thoughts travelled elsewhere.

Five time four is twenty.

Sometimes I fingered the fruit salad sweets in the pocket of my shorts, four for a penny, that I’d purchased with my pocket money from the corner Sweet Shop in the village.

Five times five is twenty-five.

In Winter I crossed my knobbly knees and kept them tightly together, to ward against the icy drafts that blew in from under the classroom door and swept over my exposed legs.

Five times six is thirty.

Yes, the winter months were harder for us younger schoolboys; obliged to wear shorts until we had attained the privilege, years later, of wearing trousers.

Five times seven is thirty-five.

But in summer, whether I wore shorts or trousers, my mind was free to drift and float on the wings of birdsong while the odour of freshly mowed grass wafted in from the playing field through wide open windows.

Five times eight is forty.

The classroom ebbed and faded during the warmest season of the year, and I could dream of finishing my Ice-Cream cone, before the next downpour of our fickle, English Summer.

Five times nine is forty-five.

Then, coming back unexpectedly from my daydream, I would see the teacher’s ruler pointed directly at me.

“Five times ten is ….”

Not always, but often, I gave the wrong answer and knew I would have to stand up in front of the whole class and let someone else correct it.

I would start to tremble but always attempted to hide it.

The ruler would stab at me menacingly.

“Five times eleven is …”

I’d look around the class for inspiration, but the class would just look back, relieved to be out of the spotlight.

I would hesitate and stammer and those sounds would feel so unfamiliar coming from my mouth.

The tension would mount further until another classmate filled the void and replied in my place.

“Fifty five, Sir.”

The ruler would wave me higher and I would step onto my chair.

Little faces would look up to me from below, and my own would feel hot and smart as if it was a flashing beacon of shame.

Then we would arrive at what should have been the apotheosis.

“Five times twelve is …”

I knew the answer then, as I know it now, but somehow it would refuse to budge, lodged firmly between knowing and saying.

Left with only a modicum of free will, I would give in to the inevitable and step gingerly onto the slanting surface of my desk with outstretched arms for balance.

Then, on a good day, I would take a deep breath and survey the classroom from my great height. I’d glare at the ruler and at the hand that held it, and feeling particularly brave, I would fix the teacher, scowl defiantly, and reply in a firm loud voice.


Then it would start all over again with another number, until the lesson was over.


I hated those multiplication tables, and throughout my formative years, I avoided mathematics whenever I could.

Strange, that as an adult, I became passionate about Information Technology and successfully obtained a Bachelors Degree in Technology and Mathematics.

With sadness, I learnt that a few years after I had left that school, my old maths teacher passed away from a Heart Attack.

I sincerely hope that it had nothing whatsoever to do with the stresses of teaching.

my500 words is a 31 day challenge to write 500 words a day. This is day 8 and this story has 886 words. The subject today was to teach something which I suppose this story does, if you look deeply enough 🙂

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