Confessions of a Beauty Queen: Once In Love with my Algebra Teacher


Blogging beauty queen talks about Social Networks to secretaries and admin folk of the PAS

When I gave a talk on Social Networking a couple of weeks ago during the annual conference of the Philippine Association of Secretaries and Administrative Professionals, I had the opportunity to meet a woman that I have admired for a long time. She is in my list of honorary beauty queens because she has reigned supreme in the field of teaching math – the most hated subject next to Social Studies. LOL!

I’m talking about the amazing Queena Lee Chua, the professor, columnist and multi-awarded book author who has written several books on how math can actually be fun. But how can this lady make claims that  math, of all things, is FUN? It’s like saying one can enjoy playing with a T-Rex AND live to laugh about it!!!

The blogging beauty queen Joyce Burton Titular with Math Queen... Queena Lee Chua

But it is true; numbers ARE FUN! And I told Queena Lee Chua all about how I fell in love with math… well… actually  with my algebra teacher. I promised her that I would write the story of how it happened and so Queena, here goes. I hope you like it!

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Just like most normal human beings my brain goes on low-bat when the math teacher enters the classroom. Sure, I can do basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division but anything beyond that is rocket science to me. So I was fine until teachers started introducing hints of algebra into our math classes. For me, algebra is like the grandaddy of mathematics albeit a bigger, scarier and crankier version.

But I managed to survive by getting the lowest of passing scores. Like a grade of 75. Or during a good quarter, maybe 77. This was my pattern until I reached 3rd year high school, the year when full-blown algebra made it’s debut into my life. I was already a young beauty queen at the time – Miss Young Philippines 1981 when I met our new Algebra professor, Mr. Santos, a bachelor. He walked into our classroom, and just like in the movies I found myself completely smitten by the guy, unable to tear my eyes off him. Not because he was an Adonis of a man but because he had this involuntary sneer that reminded me of my favorite punk rock singer Billy Idol. I had posters and posters AND posters of Billy; magazine articles and also tapes of his live performances. The internet was not yet in existence at the time so it was hard to get info on my Idol; I hungrily collected ANYTHING, even Jingle magazines and Song Hits that made the slightest mention of him.

I can't believe I found this photo of Mr. Santos in my high school year book!!!

Billy Idol and his famous sneer

The sneering Mr. Santos was the closest thing I had to Billy Idol and so I worshipped the ground he walked on. I decided to study hard so that I would be the apple of Mr. Santos’ eye. No way was I going to be the helpless coed who needed his help – I was going to show him just how smart I was. Learning Algebra suddenly became my mission in life. Right after school, I would buy merienda – usually a liter of Magnolia milk (it was still sold in bottles then) and a loaf of French Bread; I needed all those carbs for my brain while I sat in my living room poring over the notes given by Mr. Santos that day. I would even buy extra algebra books so I could have more sample equations to solve.

Naturally, I started getting good grades in Algebra, first in the high 80s steadily rising to the high 90s. But I did not forget to take care of my English lessons and would practice my writing by composing love letters to Mr. Santos. But in the span of two years I could only muster enough strength to send two or three letters to him. I signed them all – “your secret admirer…”.  Yes, I was perfectly happy admiring him from afar watching him walk the halls of Benedictine Abbey School in Alabang Hills, sneering all the way.

When we entered 4th year high school, Mr. Santos became our Physics teacher. Do not let physics fool you. It has nothing to do with physical things you can touch. Physics, in fact, is the crazy cousin of algebra and it deals with imaginary concepts like vectors, friction, velocity, density and acceleration. But my love for my professor overcame all my fears of the unseen and I continued to push my nose deep into my physics textbooks and before I knew it, I was topping my class in the subject. All my classmates would come to me for help and many of them would do it last minute while exams were already ongoing.  I have to admit that I would let them look at my answers and copy – sorry Mr. Santos, I was a merciful but deluded student. I will never condone cheating again because I have realized that it ‘stupidifies‘ people. PRAMIS!

My high school grad pic!

When graduation month came, I was exempted from taking the finals in Physics. So there I was sitting next to Mr. Santos in the Physics faculty room helping him check the final exams of our batch. At one point, I proudly showed him the cool scientific calculator my Mom had bought me – it could store up to 14 messages containing 270 characters each!  That was mind-blowing in the day and Mr. Santos was checking it out, ooohing and aaahhing at all the things it could do. Then he returned it to me saying… Oh, I left a message in your calculator for you.

Excitedly, I searched for the message but to my dismay it said – Hi Joyce, thank you for being a good student and thank you for the letters you sent to me. You will always be special to me.

The message floored me in a really really baaad way. All I wanted was to bask in his presence and nothing more. I did not want him to know that he was like the sun and the stars to me. So when I read the message, I broke down, ran into the girls bathroom and cried so hard. My 18-year-old self was embarrassed to the core and there was no redeeming it.

I graduated from high school that year ‘broken-hearted’ (yeah right) but  I walked off that stage with one of the most powerful tools in my head – the ability to understand the deeper concepts of mathematics and algebra. Although I never entered the world of science, my brain is sharper today because numbers don’t scare me – even if I often pretend they do.

Years later, in my mid-20s I had the chance to bump into Mr. Santos one last time – at the lobby of Makati Med. He was married by then and was bringing food and supplies to his wife and brand new baby. I was very happy for him and even happier to find out that all those old girlish feelings had left my heart except for the respect; THAT was still around. And I will always be grateful to Mr. Santos for being the unsuspecting man who gave me a reason to love numbers. Thanks a 1 x 10 to the sixth power!

There you go Miss Queena Lee Chua, I hope you liked my story! And I hope it can help others realize that even if they aren’t good in math, they can improve greatly IF they work at it. They need to understand that the basic ability is THERE already, all they need is the incentive 🙂


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