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For the Love of Mathematics

01 Sep 2016

O Guat Bee_students_PAT 2016

As a student, she used to be caned for her poor Maths marks. However, Maths teacher and Year Head O Guat Bee has found a more powerful weapon to make her students deliver results – love.

O Guat Bee, Temasek Primary School, President’s Award for Teachers 2016 recipient

Every time Guat Bee got less than 50 marks, the passing grade, she got a caning from her mother. The cane was busiest after Maths exams, her weakest subject.

Guat Bee’s journey from weak Maths student to passionate Maths teacher and Year Head is a testament to the transformative power of good teachers, a message that Guat Bee is keenly aware of.

When Guat Bee was in Secondary 3, her Maths teacher was Mr Jason Koh. This proved to be a turning point in her life. “His lessons were always interesting. No matter how many times I made mistakes, he was always patient. He spent hours after school coaching us. He made us laugh.”

Guat Bee not only began to enjoy Maths, her marks soared. “From then on, Maths became quite easy for me. I was about to give up and Mr Koh was there for me at the right time. I’ve never forgotten that.”

She went on to get an Education degree at the National Institute of Education, with Maths as one of her teaching subjects.

Mathematics concepts made easy

Guat Bee’s early struggles with Maths and her amazing turnaround may have much to do with the way she interacts with students – both in and out of the classroom. She’s all about second chances.

To those who are struggling with the subject, she shows her own report card with her “borderline” Maths grades to encourage them and let them know that if she could do it, so can they.

She remembers how daunted she used to be by Maths concepts, so to help her students, she creates hands-on experiences that bring these concepts to life. She says, “I believe that it’s very important for students to see the application of Maths in real-life.” To teach ratios, for instance, Guat Bee and her class made chocolate-cornflake cookies. “I asked my students: If we have to make cookies for 10 people, how much of the ingredients will we need and in what proportion?” The class ended with the students eating their Maths project, of course.

And, just like her teacher Mr Koh, Guat Bee never turns down a request for help. “If a child approaches me for help after school, I’ll always make time. That’s something that I’m proud of.”

Getting to the root of the problem

She brings this spirit of acceptance and affirmation even in her approach to discipline. Guat Bee came up with a behaviour management programme called ACORNS that’s now practised school-wide. Instead of a discipline-based approach, it works on the premise that when a child reflects on his mistake, he will take ownership of his behaviour and choose to change it.

She recalls the instance of a boy who used to persistently tease a particular girl. He was shunned by his classmates. Guat Bee took him under her wing, talking to him every day and asking him questions that made him reflect on his behaviour. She encouraged him to do kind deeds and write about them. She also organised a sharing session with his classmates to restore his relationship with his peers.

The boy and his classmates acknowledged each other’s feelings, so they could put his past behaviour behind them and move forward. “He has changed totally,” says Guat Bee. “The kids play with him during recess. I am so very proud of him.”

This attention to each individual is also reflected in the school’s Teacher-Pupil-Interaction Time, when a teacher meets one-on-one with their students to get to know them better. Sometimes they have lunch together.

Recently, this has been extended to include Foster & Bonding time, when the class plays games together, writes each other notes of affirmation or discusses different topics of interest.

They call her “Mummy”

Guat Bee says, “Once the child feels loved, that’s when they learn. It’s important for students to know that the teacher is not there just to deliver knowledge. The child should think: My teacher cares about my learning, my needs, and wants to know more about me.”

Little wonder that when talking to her, her students have, on many occasions, unconsciously called her “Mummy”.

But what about Guat Bee’s mummy? “She still sits next to me and watches me mark Maths papers,” she chuckles.