Last Wednesday, 5th October 2011, was World Teachers Day and today, Friday 7th October 2011, is Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace was a mathematician in the 19th century who is often referred to as the First Computer Programmer. Both of these days, highlighting the contributions of teachers, in the case of World Teachers Day, and the contributions of women to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths areas, in the case of Ada Lovelace Day, have made me think about a teacher and a mathematician who has inspired me to become who I am.
While in secondary school, I loved studying Maths. During Transition Year we began studying the Leaving Cert Honours Maths syllabus and we were lucky enough to be assigned Mary Haugh as our teacher. Over the next three years my love of Maths continued and if anything got stronger. I loved Maths class and really enjoyed the problem solving aspect of the syllabus. This is in no small part due to Mary Haugh. Her guiding principle in class was that there was no such thing as a stupid question. This allowed us, as a class, to tease out the many nuances of the various Maths topics. When filling in my CAO choices in school I found it difficult to choose between an Applied Maths course and an Industrial Chemistry course. I sought the advice of Mary and while she was careful not to influence me, the chat helped me to clarify what I wanted to study. I followed my heart and put Applied Maths first, which I believe was the best decision of my life.
This gave me an opportunity to have careers as a computer analyst/programmer, a statistician and now as a lecturer. Since starting to lecture I often find myself thinking of how enjoyable my Maths classes in school were and how comfortable we all felt being able to ask questions. This is something I have tried to incorporate into my own classes – I do appreciate how difficult it can be for people to ask questions in a class of more than 70 people but I still encourage participation in lectures and also in my smaller tutorial sessions. I’m not sure how successful I have been in this endeavour, but I do strive to put people at ease and try to help them to overcome the genuine terror and lack of understanding that a lot of people feel when faced with a Maths class.
So thank you Mary Haugh for inspiring me both while I was studying Honours Maths in school and also in my current career as a lecturer of Maths.