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Captain Boyce the maths man


Donna Sealy

Captain Boyce the maths man

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When he talks about numbers, tangents, simultaneous equations, fractions, addition and subtraction, mathematics seems so easy – well, almost – for someone who prefers words.

“Math is the bomb. Math is just it. Math makes thinkers. I know that people think that with math you always have to know the answer, that it must be right or wrong, not recognising that it is a fantastic tool for developing your thinking skills.

“When I teach mathematics, I don’t dwell on the answer. I dwell on the process and the thinking skills. I want to know what you are thinking, even if it is wrong. This is why math teachers ask [students] to show the working because I can correct you if I can see where you’re going down the wrong path . . . . If I don’t see it, I can’t help you,” Michael Boyce explained.

Apart from his obvious love for mathematics, Boyce also likes cadets, reading John Grisham novels, relaxing with a good movie, liming with friends and talking “bare foolishness”, laughing, and, oh, and he’s big on giving back.

The 42-year-old long-time teacher of mathematics found himself the subject of an interview as the new principal of The Lester Vaughan School, having taken up the post at the beginning of this term. (One of the few things that Boyce dislikes is interviews. So he said this one could be his last for a very long time.)

“I’m still settling in,” he said on the day the Cane Garden, St Thomas institution celebrated its 17th anniversary.

It was his father Eric who knew he would be a teacher one day. He died in 1993, two years before Boyce stepped into Alexandra School for his first and longest assignment.

While growing up, he, like so many others, used to “teach”. He had “a class of 30 with only two live people”, he recalled with a laugh.

Michael, the youngest person heading a public secondary, recalled fondly those years at the Queen Street, St Peter school, saying they were “a good experience”.

“I started in 1995. I enjoyed it, I grew there. A lot of it had to do with Dip. Ed [Diploma in Education]. Once I did my Dip. Ed, it really opened my eyes.

“Alexandra was good. It was good for the development opportunities.”

He moved on to Frederick Smith Secondary last academic year to serve as deputy principal.

“That year was a very good year. Mr [Jefferson] Phillips [the principal] is a good teacher. I think he’s a very good mentor . . . . I felt respected by him and the other teachers and people from the time I got there.”

A proud product of The Pine, Michael recalled how he wanted to attend Pine Primary but was not accepted.

“My mother dressed me for school and walked me up there, and the headmaster said there was no more space . . . . We were all disappointed.”

Eventually he entered Wilkie Cumberbatch.

“There I met Ms Armstrong and I can remember Ms Etwyn Bynoe, my Infants A teacher. I used to call her my mummy,” he said with a broad smile.

“I think my love for math came from my Class 4 teacher. I remember one day going to her. I had some problem wrong and she said [something like] ‘We need to get these things right so we [can work on the English’ . . . .

From there he attended Harrison College, where he continued to tap into the mathematical and problem-solving skills that were kindled by his Class 4 teacher.

“When I got to secondary school I met a lovely lady by the name of Mrs Nelson [now acting deputy principal at Harrison College], and my chicken was baked,” he said, giving a humorous spin on the saying “my goose was cooked”.

Having done the sciences, French, Spanish and history during first to fifth form years, he then did A level French, mathematics and physics.

He once assisted with the oral component of the French examination while at Alexandra School.

“I could have done languages, and at one point I decided to forsake being a teacher and talked about wanting to be a doctor,” he said.

At the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, he majored in mathematics – what else? He also did computer and chemistry courses.

It was his mother Esmee, who instilled in him and his siblings the values, morals and standards she lived by.

“My mother was a strong disciplinarian. She was a serious woman, she didn’t make sport.”

She also ensured he grew up in the church and he credits his involvement at St Barnabas Anglican Church with shaping the person he has become.

“I like St Barnabas; I owe a lot to St Barnabas. I was baptised [there]. I remember going to the Pilgrim Holiness Church in Welches [St Michael] but then my mother decided ‘wunna going to St Barnabas to 6:30 [a.m. service]’. Then I grew to love 6:30 a.m. . . . You started the day right with the Lord.”

And he “gives back”.

“When I was 18 I ran a summer day camp . . . . I ran it for six years. That’s why sometimes my friends would call me ‘Hitler’ – we were terrible,” he recalled with a chuckle.

Despite his hectic schedule,  Michael finds time to help tutor students at the church.

“Since 1992, I’ve been giving two hours of free lessons to children every Wednesday, that’s two hours a week. [I teach] math, which is on supposed to be for secondary school students but we might get a primary school child slipping in every now and again.

 “I really believe that God is always looking out for me so I have to help out. I don’t ask for payment. We charge a nominal fee and it goes to the church. All we ask is that you come and you be serious and do some work,” he asserted.

As a captain in the Cadet Corps, he views this organisation as another avenue to solve problems and believes that it helps children develop the necessary life skills.

“I was in cadets in school for a very short time, just under two years. I was interested in it then. I remember a guy coming saying, ‘Come and join cadets’, and I went ahead . . .

“I always thought it was good. I think those organisations are good for young people to develop and so I in 1999, when I was doing Dip Ed, I started. I joined in 2000. It has been a good experience and that, coupled with the opportunities at church and AYPA [Anglican’s Young People Association], helped hone my leadership skills, my problem-solving skills,” Michael said. 

After the long days at school, which can include several meetings with parents, students and teachers, he goes home to the warmth and comfort of his family – his partner JoyAnn and their son Joshua (“a delightful three-year-old who is going on 40,” said his dad with a big smile).

They often watch television together, enjoying shows such as Star Trek and Tour Of Duty.

“I’m a Star Trek fan. I didn’t like it at first but then it just grew on me. There’s another series that I didn’t like at first either – Tour Of Duty – but then I loved it and watch it over and over on the computer. I love westerns and when

I go home and I want to relax and unwind and have a good laugh, I like to watch Big Bang Theory,” he shared.

He is contemplating taking up gardening. 

“Everybody says that gardening is relaxing, so I want to test it,” he said before bursting into laughter.               

Until that project gets going, he might start to read the latest John Grisham novel.

“To me a summer vacation is not complete without reading a John Grisham.” (Green Bananas Media)

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