Secondary mathematics was a dread to me. Algebraic expressions, minus-plus-minus, word problems, ratios, rate problems etc were confusing. My JSS 1 teacher did her best but I was not the only one that was struggling. I don’t know how we made it to JSS 2. There the struggle continued.

We had a new mathematics teacher, Mrs Omini — diminutive, energetic, confident and lively. I think she saw the retroactive problem and tried her best to break the steps down for us to learn. We were playing catch up and then she began to teach “Word Problems”. Word problems are straight forward (I wish I could say that then). You are given a problem but not with mathematics terms but rather in sentences and you have to interpret, form equations, algebraic expressions and solve. This was hard.

Mrs Omini tried and tried. We flunk the exercises until one day one of us got it. That was Bassey. So, what Mrs Omini did, was to hand over the solving of word problems to Bassey. That was a power move.

One day, after introducing the topic in our class, she invited Bassey from the next class to take it from there. Bassey came in, dressed in our school uniform, white shirt on white shorts with his green vee-shaped pullover. Bassey spent about 10 minutes decoding the word problem and went on to solve it.

For some reason, I saw the light that day. I understood it when Bassey solved it. Then we were given a problem to solve and I flunked it again. I went over the problem the way Bassey solved it and saw my mistakes. Throughout that day, I started thinking of the word problems the way Bassey thought about them. My waking moments and spare moments were spent obsessing with word problems.

“If Bassey could do it, then I can,” were the thoughts roaming through my head. For a week, I was bent on cracking word problems.

By the next week, I got it. Call it “Eureka” or “Epiphany” or “Serendipity” — I got it! That weekend I solved all the word problems in New General Mathematics Book 2. The feeling afterwards was exhalatory. I had unseen springs in my bounce.

What made the difference?

I was challenged. A teacher found a way to challenge me and my classmates by showing us that other classmates were able to crack the code. She challenged us in a subtle way. Having another student explain the concept to us made us realise that the problems were age-appropriate. The most important thing was that we were able to see the problems from the perspective of a student.

What was a big problem all of sudden became solvable? It was because I was challenged and I rose to the challenge. Thankfully I was given the tools and motivation from my teacher. I invested time and effort and success appeared in unusual hours.

Investment of time most times equal love and with that, I will leave you with a quote from one of my influences in life, George Washington Carver. He said:

“Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough. Not only have I found that when I talk to the little flower or to the little peanut, they will give up their secrets, but I have found that when I silently commune with people, they give up their secrets also — if you love them enough.”

It is impossible until it is done.

Go figure out your own word problem.

May you have your “Bassey” sent to you.

May you be challenged.

May you rise up to the occasion.

May success visit you in common hours.


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