Going through school, teacher Matthew Millikin had a complicated relationship with mathematics.
He saw it as a subject that had to be rote learned from textbooks and he couldn't see much point to it all.
Now a maths teacher at Marist College Canberra, his passion is getting reluctant teenagers to get out of the mindset that they are "bad at maths".
At the Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards at Parliament House on Monday night, he was one of 10 teachers from across the country to receive an early career teaching award with a scholarship worth $10,000.
Mr Millikin initially completed a bachelor of science but he always had the idea of becoming a teacher in the back of his mind.
When COVID-19 pandemic began he decided it was time to make that dream a reality by studying master of teaching.
Mr Millikin said teaching maths to a cohort of year 7 boys could be challenging as the students brought a wide range of knowledge, maturity and attitudes to the subject.
"One of my missions has been to get rid of this myth that people are born bad at maths. [They say] 'I'm bad at maths' or at home, it's 'my family is bad at maths'.
"You kind of already see that closed mindset coming into year 7 and it can be quite detrimental and can really become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy."
In the classroom and during an after-school intervention program, he explicitly teaches the soft skills of mathematics, including turning negative self-talk into a growth mindset.
"It's celebrating wins, making mistakes and trying again and really challenging them to see maths as just a puzzle that needs to be manipulated and changed and so it comes out as something you can understand."
He talks to parents about using the right language around maths at home to encourage students to be persistent instead of giving up.
The after-school program began with 20 year 7 and 8 students last year and has expanded to 60 students this year.
Mr Millikin works with the more experienced maths teachers to devise games and competitions to address skill gaps in an engaging way. It's one way the school is trying to address maths anxiety.
Marist College headmaster Matthew Hutchison said Mr Millikin was a remarkable early career teacher whose dedication to research and evidence-based learning had profoundly shaped his classroom practice.
"Matthew firmly believes in the untapped potential of boys in his classroom, and his unwavering support empowers them to achieve remarkable growth," Mr Hutchison said.
"His frequent and precise discussions about classroom teaching are nothing short of infectious. He sparks curiosity and passion for learning in both students and colleagues alike. Matthew's impact on education is undeniable, and his future as an educator promises to be exceptionally bright."
While he didn't understand the pressures of teaching until he was standing in front of a class, Mr Millikin said witnessing a student understand a new concept was extremely gratifying.
"You can see the light bulb moment, you can see them then racing to apply what they now know to something ... it makes it all worth it honestly, so it's really to me the most important part of the job."
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