I was made to stand in front of the class for the rest of the lesson. I was ashamed; I was angry, I was confused. But who was to blame?
It is after morning break time, and the class is settling down. We are waiting for the mathematics teacher. Class four average age is 9 years, and the noise can be likened to the weaverbird colony in the school compound. I sit at my desk and take out my book from the desk and lay it on the desk; my sharpened pencil and rubber too. All noise subsides as she walks into class.
“Good morning class!”
“Good morning Mrs. Mukasa”, we respond in unison.
Mrs. Mukasa stands facing us, her back to the black chalk board. Her meticulously pressed pleated skirt cuts the precision of one who knows well how to measure every inch.
“Today we are reciting the multiplication tables”, she announces. I am not worried because I know I have mastered the mandatory ones, 2×1 to 12×12. Rote, ‘parrot’ learning is what we have been taught to do.
One by one, pupils go to the front for their recitals. There are ‘casualties’ of course, the ones who have been struggling all along. The teacher encourages them when they falter and forget.
We are moving in rows, and soon it is my turn. I walk up to the front of the class with an air of confidence that shows that I know my stuff. The sailing is good until I get to table four, where, to my amazement, I get stuck!
“Four times Eight equals ….”, I fidget with my fingers and repeat three more times, “Four times Eight equals …”, without success. I cannot remember the answer, and I am so frustrated. I look at the ceiling as if the answer would be up there. The silence and the numerous pairs of eyes fixed on me do not help the situation. My throat chokes and my eyes start to tear.
Mrs. Mukasa is no doubt disappointed in me. She tells me to start over, and when I do, I still get stuck at four times eight! She tells me to proceed with the other tables, which I do very well, up to 12×12 =144. I even manage to go through the eighth table, getting right 8×4=32! I am made to repeat the fourth table, now for the third time, but I still get stuck at the same spot.
I am made to stand in front of the whole class as punishment up to the end of the mathematics lesson. For me, however, the real punishment is having to stand as a symbol of failure in front of my classmates. I had already got my punishment of shame!
I did not get any help with my problem, because the teacher believed that I could solve it myself. Till today, I cannot say what had caused the momentary slip in my brain. Because even after other pupils had gone over it, I could still not have my brain jump-started, or even just copy the answer from them!
Perhaps a ‘slate’ got erased and could not be retrieved in the given set of circumstances.
I went back to my seat in shame as the teacher walked out. I still wonder why I could not transfer what I knew from the 8th table.
Our Exercise books then, had multiplication tables and arithmetic tables printed on the back cover, so that we practiced as often as we could. We would practice with and challenge each other even outside class. Teaching methods do at times raise learning problems. I was better able to help my own children as they learnt their tables.
It is now just a story.