Lieven's Blog

What's on my mind...

The teachers who influenced me... 1/3

Clipboard with Pencil_16x16So far there are three teachers who influenced my life significantly. Although I’m forty now, they are still on my mind every now and then. The first one is the mathematics teacher I had when I was about seventeen years old. He had a picture of a monkey above his blackboard and he called him Jimmy. He talked to that monkey when he was upset about us students. The monkey had his finger in front of his mouth as if he was saying “be quiet.” It was his way to control his emotions and to express to the students that he wasn’t happy. It impressed me how a man could control his emotions in such a simple but effective way, and it sure had an impact on us students. In many ways he was an inspiring teacher. I was not good in mathematics but his way of explaining and encouraging the students was exceptional. He had this play on words and called Wiskunde (the Flemish word for Mathematics), Wiskunst (MathArt). He convinced even me that there was art and beauty in mathematical equations. Some years later I went to University and in my junior year I had to do a difficult math exam. I remember one problem on integrals that you could only solve when you correctly applied four different methods. As always with exams you are under time pressure, but when I solved that problem and saw how the four methods seamlessly fit into each other, the word “MathArt” popped up in my mind. “He was right,” I thought, “math is art.”

A couple of weeks ago I contacted him after more than twenty years. It was nice that he remembered who I was. I felt I had to thank him for what he had meant to me. We met at his home at the sea side. His wife baked a delicious cake and we talked about the past. He is now seventy-eight but still full of energy just like I knew him before. It is great to see how he still lives by the values he tried to pass on to us. This man never gave up on his students and even today he said, “You have to love your students if you want to be a teacher.” John F. Kennedy once said: ”One person can make a difference and everyone should try.” Without doubt this energetic and inspiring math teacher tried to make a difference for his students and he sure made an important difference in my life.
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Rochus Bedert, Leadership