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Zeroes Can Be Significant

In an interview with just-retired teacher and Lifetime of Extraordinary Service awardee GOKE ANDREWS, foremost reporter NOLINA BANTO provides the exclusive details of his motivation for teaching.

Nolina: Good morning sir and congratulations to you once again! Thank you for granting us some of your time.

Goke: Thank you for the opportunity as well.

Nolina: (Smiles) We shall begin right away. You worked relentlessly as a teacher for 30-something years, and virtually all your students still speak highly of you and of your remarkable prowess as a teacher. How does it feel now to be retired?

Goke: Oh, retirement is just a formality for me (Laughs). I have my grandchildren over for the holidays so I am still quite engaged as a teacher. But I do admit, it does feel slightly different. My wife admittedly says I will need some time to get used to it.

Nolina: We learned that your foray into teaching was due to a personal experience of failures. Would you care to share that with us?

Goke: Yes, certainly. I studied Education as an undergraduate and majored in Child Education for my doctorate degree. In those days (and sadly till now), people viewed educators and teachers as people with no future prospects. I recall someone telling me to my face that I had wasted my PhD by becoming a “Common Teacher”, but I was not deterred. In the course of my career as a teacher, not once did I fail to discover students who had been wrongly labelled as dullards. With many of these students, I realised that adequate knowledge disseminated from the teacher, combined with patience and re-orientation, that is, teaching the students to believe that they too have immense capacity to learn what has been taught and to excel, correcting their impression of themselves as dullards, can effect a radical positive change in their education, and occasionally, the rest of their lives.

Nolina: I cannot resist the urge to ask, why teaching? What was your drive, your motivation?

Goke: Oh that is simple. When I was in primary school in the olden days, I was not one of the sharpest brains- and this is putting it mildly (Smiles). This continued up to my secondary school days, and my young mother became frantic, especially as I was the first child and only son of hers. She thought it was a “spiritual attack” and responded likewise by taking me to various seers in our small village to seek remedies. This continued till a young teacher resumed to our secondary school as the Maths teacher, Ms Luton. An unforgettable English woman. She refused to believe I was a lost cause, despite the resignation of the other teachers. And boy, did that change my entire life.

Nolina: How do you mean?

Goke: On one of those days in Maths class, she taught us about significant figures. I remember I got confused a lot by the zeroes. You recall I had been on a failing streak, with lots and lots of zeroes in my homework (Laughs). In our culture, zeroes are deemed as useless- and this was my understanding at that age. So when Ms Luton said to round up numbers to 3 significant figures or 4 significant figures, I never counted the zeroes behind the decimal point, because I thought them simply useless. I only counted the “real integers”, as I though them, the numbers ranging from 1 to 9. But never the zero. Obviously, I kept failing class exercises and assignments, till she called one day after our class to speak with me.

Nolina: (Curious) What did she say?

Goke: (Smiles) She asked me why I never counted the zeroes, because she had noticed that this was why I kept failing the class exercises. I explained to her and she listened calmly, not interrupting me. Then she made an unforgettable statement, “Gowkey (in her British accent), zeroes can be significant.”

Nolina: Wow. “Amen” to that! That is such a statement with depth.

Goke: I could not agree more. After that day, you can be certain I never failed any more class exercises. But beyond that, Ms Luton took it upon herself to seek permission from my mother to teach me every other subject I did not understand after school hours. When my mother told her it was a futile endeavour and that she had exhausted the financial resources available for my education at the seers’ (to no avail of course), Ms Luton told her she would teach me at no cost to the family. She just wanted my mother to believe that I was no dullard; I was just a student who needed extra help.

Nolina: That is such a touching story. So, it is safe to infer that Ms Luton motivated you to be a Maths teacher?

Goke: Yes, she did. This was why I dedicated the Lifetime of Extraordinary Service award to her. While my former students all have glowing reports about my teaching and their experiences with me, I myself am indebted to the teacher whose shoulders I first stood on.

Nolina: (Smiles) What an amazing story. Our education system will doubtlessly benefit from having more teachers like you and Ms Luton. Thank you so much for your time sir.

Goke: (Smiles) I could not agree more. Thank you for having me.



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