Disability has turned to ability for a physically challenged teacher who brings enthusiasm and performances to the teaching of mathematics, resulting in successful outcomes for his students. Michael Thompson Showunmi shared his teaching experience with Funmi Ogundare
In four years, all the students he taught mathematics passed with good grades in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) or the Basic Education Certificate Examination. Mr. Michael Thompson Showunmi has turned his disability into a basis for teaching and inspiring a cohort of students who now take to mathematics with delight.
He walks with the aid of crutches; though life threw stones at him, he has not allowed this to deter his hope and dreams of making sure that his students succeed in the subject.
His success story in teaching mathematics is inspirational. As an assistant maths teacher in Good Shepard School, Lagos, where he taught students in terminal classes, he recorded 100 per cent score in the subject.
For instance, at the 2017 WASSCE, out of the eight students that sat for Further-maths, three had a B3, while five others, scored C. In the 2018 examination, out of seven students that sat for the subject, four had B2, while three others got C. For the 2017 Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) for students in the junior secondary school, out of the 51 students that sat for the 2018 Mathematics examination, 12 got distinction (A1), 18 had B, while 21 had credit score. In the 2018 and 2019 mathematics examinations, out of the 46 students that sat for the subject, 16 had distinction, 12 had B, and 18 had credit score; six had distinction, 17 had B, while 23 had credit score in both examinations.
The Chemical Engineering graduate of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), said since he started teaching in 2016, he has not felt that he is physically challenged, but has made his disability his ability.
“In fact, I use to forget I’m using crutches. I teach with enthusiasm, I dance in class, I use rhythms to teach at times to aid in remembering the topic. I teach with all my energy. I feel my mind and soul when I am teaching, and it makes me forget about other things that I am supposed to be worried about because it is what I love doing; it is my passion,” he said.
His zeal and energy go to any length to see his students successful and filled with knowledge and understanding.
Before the closure of schools and lockdown, THISDAY encountered him in the school located at Alakuko area of Lagos, where he teaches.
He narrated his experience to this reporter of how he had been teaching in many low-income community schools after closing hours just to help the schools.
“When I started teaching, my students pitied me so much to the extent that they thought I wouldn’t be capable of teaching them, considering the number of periods per day that I had to teach Mathematics and Further Mathematics,” he said.
As time went on, when they saw his zeal in imparting knowledge in them, they loved him more and even fell in love with the subject.
“My worst experience is resuming in this school, and at the first instance, it brought tears to my eyes. The students said it right in class, ‘gow can they employ a guy using crutches to be our maths teacher? What can he teach us?’ They made a jest of me each time I went to their class, especially when I wanted to write the day’s date because my hands could not reach the top of the board. They called me ‘crutches’ to my face.
“At first I felt awful and almost crying in every class because it’s my first experience in such kind of hostile environment within the school. Later, I changed my perspective. I stopped reacting, and I started focusing on things I can change. I wore a blooming smile to the class and even responded with enthusiasm each time they called me crutches. “With time, the students not only loved me, but they also fell deeply in love with Mathematics. You will always see them solving maths or going along with maths textbook even during break time because none of them wants to score the least even in classwork.”
On teaching with a physical challenge, Showunmi said, life does not happen to us, it happened for us. Being physically challenged did not occur to me or my mind, it happened for me to let the whole world know that despite my challenges, I can choose to be whatever I want to be. I have gone beyond the level of ‘there is ability in disability’, I believe and act as ‘my disability is my ability.
“Sometimes, it is incredibly stressful, especially transportation, climbing the stairs to and from, but the truth is that I only feel the stress when I get home, especially in my arms. I leave school around 7/8 pm or 9 pm because I must mark my students’ assignment to motivate them for the next day. Principals always pity me at first, but later, when they saw the level of my performance through the students’ performance in exams, they gave me more subjects to teach.”
Showunmi has taught more than Mathematics and Further Mathematics in his career. His teaching assignments include Physics, Chemistry, Basic Science and Technology and Physical Health Education (PHE). He has also taught Biology and Agricultural Science in some schools.
“My impact on my students is ever-lasting because I’m not only a teacher to them. I serve as a source of inspiration. Some watch me walking to school, mounting on bikes, crossing the expressway, climbing the staircase, playing football, playing tennis and they tell me personally, ‘if you didn’t give up despite going through all these struggles, I will never give up’. I also do share some of my story with them graduating as a Chemical Engineer with CGPA of 4.21/5.00.
“There is this empathy between my students and I such that none of us wants to disappoint each other when it comes to mathematics exam. None of my students wants to disappoint me, and that is why till now, none of my students has ever failed in the subject I teach at both internal and external exams like WAEC.
“What I impact on my students is beyond just Mathematics within the walls of the school. I affect empathy, kindness, love especially each time I donate sanitary pads, sandals and school uniforms to the students in my community from the little income I earn”, Showunmi stressed.
His Supervisor and Head, Department of Mathematics and Science at Good Shepard School, Lagos, Mr. Friday Evbotokhai Ohien lauded Showunmi’s resilience, saying that he has a good determination for success. “He possessed some exceptional qualities while he worked with the school,”Ohien stated.
“He had a good interpersonal relationship with the students. This quality made him accessible and approachable to the students. They were able to discuss their problems with him even after classes freely.”
He noted that Showunmi had a mastery of the subject and taught with pleasure.
“He had good determination for success. This also reflect in the performance and results of his students. He made the students to love Mathematics and learn with ease. I discovered that some students who hardly talk or respond to questions in other classes, find it exciting and easier to express themselves in his class,” he stressed.
During the lockdown, THISDAY also met with some of his students. They told this reporter how their grades had improved for the better in Mathematics and Further-maths. The improvement affected their academics generally.
Master Timilehin Adeyemi said: “He taught me Further Mathematics from SS1 second term and since then, there has been a gradual improvement in my academics. He inspired me greatly. He taught me more as time went on and it was fun. Even those who were not good in the subject initially started improving, and they were able to solve questions independently.”
He described Showunmi not just as a teacher, but a motivational speaker and an inspirational teacher who helped him in various aspects of his life. “He affected my life positively with positivity and determination and helped us wholeheartedly when we were preparing for WASSCE when he taught us overnight. This enabled us all to share our thoughts with him and learn from one another. I can call him an all-round teacher because he teaches me all subjects. No one is an island, but he is a definition of a true teacher.”
Master Oluwapelumi Olaosebikan said: “Mr. Showunmi taught me Further Mathematics. The impact he had on me was a perfect one. It could have been a lot better if he had been the one who taught me from the beginning. I was nowhere near success, that is, I was an ‘F’ student before he started taking me Further Mathematics. Afterwards, I witnessed an improvement, and my F grade moved to a C.”
Olaosebikan, now an undergraduate of Physics Education, University of Ibadan, also described his maths teacher as one who has inspired and motivated him to work harder towards achieving success.
“What I admired about Mr. Showunmi in and out of the class were his good vibes. He is friendly, nice and an inspiring teacher. I believe if he could make his disability an ability, then who am I not to make it. I have got no excuse. I am still in touch, and he’s been accommodating all along and always there to offer his advice.”
In her words, Miss Eniola Ajayi described Showunmi as a great teacher, who made her see Mathematics differently and simply, making it easier for her to solve problems related to the subject, especially in Physics and Chemistry.
“Further Mathematics was a massive problem for me before, but when he started teaching me, I improved a lot more in it, and most importantly in mathematics. It has brought a great change in my academic life.
“As a matter of fact, before Mr. Showunmi started teaching me Further Mathematics, my result was not satisfactory at all, it became a problem for me to take my report sheet home to my parents to see, but afterwards, my results improved a lot, and I was delighted and confident enough to take my report sheet home to my parents.”
She described her maths teacher as a very bright and knowledgeable man. “He tries to explain every topic in the simplest way he could, using real-life situations to explain mathematical problems and making it easier for students to understand.
“He even takes his time to teach us overnight in school, and out of class, he is a very cheerful and fun-loving person. It’s effortless to get along with him, but when it is time for work, he gets serious,” she said.
Master Oluwaseyi Akinlade said: “Mr. Showunmi taught me Mathematics in 2016, while I was preparing for my WASSCE. His impact on me was that I understood the subject better and there was a big and positive change in the way I saw Mathematics. The truth is, I had issues with the subject while I was in SS2. I was asked to repeat the class in my old school, but my dad just decided to change my school. On resuming at the new school, I met Showunmi, and I got better in maths. I believe that if someone like Showunmi can take out time to go over a topic till you get it, why shouldn’t I now go back to study it, and it got simpler,” he stressed.
He described his teacher as hard working; made maths fun and could go over a topic as many times as possible in class till students get it.
“We had jokes in between solving equations, not just the regular writing on the board, and you will see yourself assimilating what he is teaching you. Outside the classroom, he would sit with us to laugh, talk and tell stories of how he survived in the university. I loved how friendly and generous he was to us.”