By Clare BruceThursday 8 Jun 2017
Listen: Eddie Woo in conversation with Katrina Roe.
If you follow maths teacher Eddie Woo around for a day, you’ll notice something special about him.
It’s his outward-looking nature; his natural tendency to help and encourage others.
One minute he’ll be at the front of a class at Cherrybrook Technology High, explaining mathematical formulae with all the passion and charisma of a youth preacher; not because he wants to look cool (although on the maths teacher’s scale of coolness, he’s winning) – but because he really wants his students to love maths, and do well in life.
Next you’ll see him up the back, helping a quiet, struggling student one-on-one, until the light comes on in their eyes and they finally ‘get it’.
At lunch time he’ll be on playground duty, showing care for kids who are on the fringes socially; later, at home with his wife and kids, he’s on the couch reading them a book until they’re all giggling.
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A Quiet, Bookish Child
Eddie Woo wasn’t always this magnetic.
The child of Chinese-Malaysian immigrants, he was bullied for being small, defenceless, and Asian. He was also quiet, bookish and isolated, and struggled to ask for help.
But a couple of teachers showed him kindness, and slowly he gained confidence in himself. Now, he lives to return the favour to struggling students in a similar way.
And thanks to his Youtube channel of videoed maths classes, aptly named ‘Wootube’, he’s become a veritable internet celebrity, with 4 million views and counting.
A Genuine Love for Students
What stands out most about Eddie’s passion for his work, is what motivated him to become a teacher in the first place—it wasn’t actually mathematics.
In an interview with Hope 103.2’s Katrina Roe, Eddie explained that his care for students is what drives him.
“When I got to university I realised ‘I want to be a teacher, because I want to make a difference to kids – I don’t really mind what subject I’m going to teach, so long as I can interact with young people and help them’,” he said.
“Every child is unique and special and important.”
“The thing that switches me on the most…is seeing children move forward and become something different from what they were before, and grow up and realise their place in the world.”
On his Twitter feed, Eddie shares thoughts like, “a central task for teachers is winning the students’ hearts before you can teach their minds”.
And it was his love for the individual, that birthed Eddie’s Youtube channel. He started filming classes to help a student who missed a lot of school while battling cancer. Now, students from around the world access videos (more than 3000 of them), on topics like “Trigonomic Ratios”, “Euler’s Identity”, and “Binomial Expansions with Surds”.
The Design Behind ‘Beautiful’ Maths
While it’s kindness that drives him, that’s not to say Eddie doesn’t top the nerd charts with his passion for maths itself. Indeed, he calls it “beautiful”, “almost an aesthetic experience”, and sees God’s hand at work in mathematical equations.
“It’s all around us,” he enthuses. “Like music, which you can just sort of let breeze past you, it’s part of your world, but if you stop and listen, there’s something deep and beautiful to appreciate there.
“Our world has been designed and there a beautiful patterns just waiting to be discovered. I think I really love that.”
“Think of a bolt of lightning. They’re always a characteristic shape. Why is a lightning bolt shape what it is? There’s a beautiful little piece of mathematics underneath it called a fractal, and that kind of shape is everywhere in nature once you start looking for it.
“There’s a reason for this, things just aren’t a coincidence. Our world has been designed and there a beautiful patterns just waiting to be discovered. I think I really love that.”
The Faith That Inspires Mr Woo’s Generosity
Eddie’s generous spirit, and his willingness to share his teaching for free, is no coincidence. It stems partly from his own life experiences. Childhood hardship, and losing his mother to lung cancer, have made him highly empathetic.
And there’s also his lifelong Christian faith, which has given him a sense of gratitude.
“For me being a Christian means that the reason I exist in this world is to serve, to contribute something to my community, to love people and be kind to them,” he says. “And therefore as a teacher, it’s my job to look after children and help them grow, and provide them with opportunities and help them realise the things they’re capable of.
“Secondly, it just informs the sense of care I have to staff, students, parents, all the people I interact with. Being a Christian means I want to do that in a way that’s caring and shows love and grace to the people around me.”