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More than Math

Ramya Devaraj

· Volunteer,Education,Math

It is 4:36pm and you rush into class, brushing hair out of your eyes, shifting the books you’re holding from one arm to the other, and looking around for them. They see you, and smiles spread across their faces. “Sorry I’m late,” you say, but they’re already running, books in hand, to the tree under which you have class every week. You shake their hands, laughing, as each tries to out-shake the other.

“How was your we-”

“AMAZING! You won’t believe-”

“We have a new teach-”

“The puppy came back to visit-”

“I memorized the 13 times table-”

“I started a new book-”

“The other day we-”

“And then he-”

“But before that they-”

This time, you really can’t help the smile that spreads across your face. You take it all in, their excitement, their exuberance, the wonder brimming in their eyes.

“Time for tables!” you say, and they immediately straighten up. They rush through the multiplication tables from 1 to 6, and you couldn’t be prouder. It had taken a while for them to understand why learning the tables was so important, but once they realized how easy it made everything else, they embraced the daily practice with open arms. Now it was time for 7 to 12. The tricky half. And you know exactly where they stumble. You’ve done this with them nearly a hundred times over the past two years. It’s always 7x8. So you’re prepared. You smile, they scrunch up their eyes, thinking hard, and just like, they breathe out, “56!”

Whooping, you clap for them, and they pump their little fists in the air triumphantly. By the time we reach 12, they are out of breath.

“And twelve twelve’s are...144!”

This weekly ritual has done so much more than help them multiply. It’s taught them that with practice, it is guaranteed that they will improve. It has taught them that they have it in themselves to excel. And it’s taught you that they will always be willing to work hard, if someone would just show them the way. When you started teaching the kids, they didn’t want to learn. They were tired of putting effort into things that they assumed wouldn’t work in their favor anyways. So you knew that you had to do more than just show them how division worked. You needed to believe in them, and make sure that they knew you did. That’s all they needed.

“Akka,” she says, and you are transported back to the now. “Why is 6 scared of 7?”

You smile. “I don’t know, why?”

“Because 7 ate 9!”

And then they are laughing and you are laughing and this, this is more than just math.

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