Mathematics is one of those school subjects that students either get or they just don’t, with very little falling in between.
In math, memory comes into play in a big way since formula after formula is needed so a problem can be converted into an answer. Rather than just telling his students how to apply the subject’s mountain of formulas, GMC Prep high school math teacher Bala Reddy has come up with a creative way to connect with his kids and also set them up for success.
“Math is a very tough subject that many people fear, so I thought I wanted to make it a little more interesting,” Reddy said. “I started by making small poems, shortcuts and acronyms, and students started appreciating it because they were able to remember things better.”
A native of Hyderabad, India, Reddy took those mnemonic devices many steps further as it’s not at all out of the ordinary for his classroom to double as a performance venue.
“I wanted to create my own niche in the field,” he said. “By God's grace, I had these music skills. I was good at composing and writing from my childhood and I picked up playing a few instruments later on.”
Twenty-five years into his teaching career later and Reddy is known, not just in Milledgeville, but around the world for his ability to make algebra, geometry and trigonometry much more palatable for young people. He has his own YouTube channel, “Math On,” where both his students and others can turn to for help in committing equations and formulas to memory. “Sine 00,” which was written during his nine-year tenure at John Milledge Academy, is the biggest hit with millions of online views around the world. It also got him noticed by his hometown newspaper, the Deccan Chronicle, who featured him a few years ago. Now in his first year at GMC Prep, the beat goes on.
“These are all original songs,” Reddy said of his creations. “I don’t take other tunes. My go-to place is Northridge Church where I go to walk or run. That’s where I actually come up with all these funny tunes. I come home and make music, and my son helps me upload all the videos to YouTube.”
While the recorded videos and accompanying visual aids on his YouTube channel are fun, they do not compare to the live, in-classroom performances that have Reddy standing at the head conducting his choir of student performers. Sometimes things get even less formal as his enthusiasm has even taken him atop classroom furniture. Although self-admittedly not a gifted singer, Reddy’s talent for rhythmic composition is what helps set his students up for success. Not just anyone could turn the formulas used to find the slope of a line or angles within a triangle into catchy tunes.
“Everybody teaches at school, but I think students are looking for that extra element that you can bring to the table,” he said. “Maybe it was because of my music or because of my stories, but I get connected to students and they get connected to me pretty fast.”
Reddy came to the United States from India in 2007, beginning his stateside teaching career in Bluffton, S.C. After three years there, he followed a colleague to Milledgeville and John Milledge Academy where he spent the last nine years before moving to GMC Prep in 2019. Though not a U.S. citizen yet, Reddy is undergoing that process while here on an H1-B work visa.
The high school math instructor believes he got his flair for performance from his father who was a dramatist, not a musician.
“I watched him on the stage when I was a kid,” Reddy said. “He was a wonderful performer. Watching a parent perform, you pick up some traits. He had a wonderful voice. He used to read in church, so I read in church. Stage fright was never a problem.”
Today, he couples his love of music with his love of teaching as he said he’s never gotten any pushback from school administrators due to his out-of-the-box methods.
“They gave me full freedom,” he said.
Reddy said it’s all about the kids — teaching and instilling good values in them. And nothing does a musical math teacher’s heart better than hearing from a former student or running into one in the grocery store and having them perform one of his original numbers on the spot many years after they first heard it.
“Even today I get random texts and late-night phone calls from former students in college asking me to explain different concepts,” he said. “I’m so, so happy that those students remember me and take the time to call and ask questions. There’s nothing more fulfilling than students telling me the songs have helped them and having them ask me to do more. That is the motivation.”