Thoughts of a Mathematics Language Teacher

I have mad love for Mathematics. Something which was really born in my primary school days, literally from Grade 4 (before that, it is just numeracy, right), but I did not know it then.

My earliest memories with my grade 4 teacher was her strictness with the subject and her way of making us be creative with it (following rules of course). I remember long division and the songs we had to come up with in class to remember the routine, DMSB. It was a fun time. I might not remember the whole year, but that was a good thing in my life, makes me want to be just as creative. Moving on to grade 5, this teacher taught me how to be a maths teacher, yep at that young age. She would test us regularly and then select her top learners to help her mark. I loved it, also because I could avoid things like going to assembly (I hated sitting on the floor, no other reason). It was such an engaging time between all of us as learners, and with the teacher, I felt empowered in understanding the teaching, learning, and marking process at my level of understanding at the time.

Maths is a language

Fast forward, to grade 11 and 12. The most profound thing I heard from my teacher, “Maths is a language, just like English and any other. You need to speak it often to be able to do it, read it and understand it.” That sounded so philosophical to me at that time. It did something to my mind and my brain switched on a certain way. That was a flame ignited.

Super fast forward to today. I teach Pure Maths and Maths Lit. Ask my learners, I am so particular about how an equation or a formula is to be written. I tell them how you write is a form of communication to the marker or even someone overseas. Whenever we deal with exponents, I get as irritated as a language teacher does with grammar when someone says x2/x3, instead of x to the power 2 or x-cubed. I stress that we write coordinates in alphabetical order (x;y), it can’t be any other way because scientists and other people who deal with these things need to understand our universal tone. There is so much more to learn, and well, it gets me excited!

In fact, I have “Welcome to Mathematics, Second Additional Language” on my door. I teach a new concept and I communicate to my learners, there is a certain way that we need to speak so that we understand one another. I even joke about it sometimes. I feel like I’m getting through to them.

My classroom door

The younger ones are definitely more open to it than the seniors. You know the difficulty of teaching an old dog new tricks and all. It is what it is. Time will tell whether it works out. So far, I notice how they correct themselves and attempt to write out a problem a certain way. I had a learner write out a formula in words and arguing that it was correct. It was correct, but also a bit too vague/generalised.

I’m creating my classroom to be a safe space for communication on multiple ways to calculate the same thing, just as in English there are multiple was to say the same thing using synonyms etc. Isn’t mathematics just so beautiful to work with. I think it can be.

My latest project is getting learners to participate in maths competitions so that I expand their minds a bit more, outside of the syllabus. I had a conversation with a few and I was blown away by the enthusiasm and the sign up. I feel I’m doing something right, not to brag, but I need to be proud of me too.

Here’s to all the Maths Teachers out there. May we be successful in teaching our language. Let’s see where this year takes us. I’m feeling it will be a good one. 🙂


2 thoughts on “Thoughts of a Mathematics Language Teacher

Add yours

  1. Hey Hope that you well I am Tumiso
    Been following your content for quite sometime. I am registered PGCE student for academic year 2023. I see you completed yours few years back, can you kindly advise on how the program is like and how you managed to pass it well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Tumiso, thank you for your question.

    I completed my PGCE at UCT in 2021. So that was tricky because covid was still an issue, so most of my courses were completed online. I enjoyed my method subject courses (maths and economics) more than the Education course, where they teach about a variety of things from the history of curriculum and lesson planning, differentiating, inclusivity. These things are very important but it was paired with a heavy amount of reading that I was not used to. I mostly passed because everything was an assignment, no exams or tests except in maths I wrote a competency exam. The teaching practice was a great experience and taught me much more in practice than in theory.

    I hope that helps and I hope you do well. All the best!


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