Excellence in Secondary School Teaching

Azhar Rajah, Ahmed Timol Secondary School, Gauteng

Azhar Rajah, Ahmed Timol Secondary School, Gauteng

Winner: Azhar Rajah,
Ahmed Timol Secondary School, Gauteng

Rajah represents a generation of young fired-up teachers who are joining the profession in droves. With only eight years teaching experience, he still has a lot to offer the profession. He currently teaches Life Science and Life Orientation at the school. He says the reason why she became a teacher is because teaching is exciting: “Every day is different, bringing its own rewards and challenges.”

Rajah said he misses the youthful energy of his learners when he is not in class. He adds: “I am motivated to make a positive impact on the learners’ lives, as their achievements become your achievements.” Rajah believes learners must learn to take responsibility, especially in the face of the increasing challenges such as alcohol and substance abuse, and teenage pregnancy.

One of the effective ways in which Rajah improves his learners’ performance is to revise old material with them, so that by the time they sit for their tests or examinations they are adequately prepared. He said he always makes sure his learners comprehend the subject matter and encourages them to feel free to ask questions in class.

“It is important to focus on the positives and to change what you can in your immediate environment; change will happen slowly but surely. This will not happen without commitment and teamwork. When teachers work together, they can make a significant impact towards the education of every child in that school,” says Rajah.

He feels the NTAs helps bring faith and confidence back to the education sector, saying he is honoured for being a provincial finalist in his category – representing his school, district and province. “The initiative is both developmental and rewarding,” he adds.

Rajah is also actively involved in community outreach initiatives, one of which is Operation Dignity Project, which has raised funds totalling R40 000 towards a sanitation project. It also built 10 additional toilets and three urinals at the school.

Another initiative is the annual Winter Warmth Campaign where grade 12 learners collect socks and food for underprivileged residents in Kagiso Township. This, he believes, inculcates a sense of community involvement and caring among the learners.

1st Runner-up: Shamelle Jenny Beeton,
Kokstad College, KwaZulu-Natal

Beeton believes teaching is a noble cause that requires total commitment and passion. She says teaching is not an occupation but a calling; it is both rewarding and fulfilling. What makes the profession stand out for her is that it is not a routine, as every day has its own challenges that demand creativity and selflessness.

“To me teaching is a career, not just an occupation; it is a joy, not a routine chore. Every day is different and interesting, filled with a sense of personal satisfaction,” says Beeton.

“It is very rewarding and it always makes me happy when my learners achieve and make progress.” She believes learners are like empty vessels yearning to be filled with knowledge and says it is exciting to teach such a knowledge-thirsty bunch of cheerful minds.

Beeton’s teaches learners from a small town near rural communities with diverse cultural and language barriers, and this presents challenges in the classroom. But thanks to her creativity and innovative teaching style, she is able to navigate these challenges by creating an engaging and interactive classroom learning environment. She also has a good command of three key languages spoken in the area, and this makes it easy for her to connect and make her lessons easily accessible to the learners.

Beeton is also comes from a disadvantaged background and fully understands the challenges her learners experience. She says she always motivates and reminds her learners that they can overcome their circumstances through determination and hard work.

One of her advantages is that Beeton has embraced the latest technologies to stimulate learner participation in class and also equip them with the relevant ITC skills. Thanks to MTN’s contribution, the school uses smartboards, which enrich the classroom learning experiences for the learners.

Beeton motivates her colleagues to adopt technology, because it is an effective way to excite and energise the learners. Teachers also use technology to network and perform administrative functions and draw up lesson plans and timetables. “It is important for us as teachers to upgrade our skills and discard traditional teaching methods so that we can cope with the challenges of the modern education system,” says Beeton.

She is also actively engaged in other initiatives to interact and share best practice with the community. One of her favourite personal projects is the Friday soup kitchen for the disadvantaged community members of Twist Valley. She is also a fitness fanatic and is involved in various school and district sporting codes as a swimming and athletic coach and umpire, because she believes a “physically fit learner is a mentally fit learner”.

2nd Runner-up: Louise Fullard,
Hoërskool Bergvlam, Nelspruit in Mpumalanga

Unlike most of her peers who struggled with career choice, Fullard knew early on that she was a born teacher. “As far as I can remember, I’ve had an inner desire to teach. As a young girl, I used to gather the children in my neighbourhood into my makeshift classroom and teach them, whether they wanted to learn or not. I believe that teaching is my calling,” says Fullard.

Fullard has long been in the system and has a solid 25 years teaching experience. It is small wonder that she is the current HoD of the school’s Afrikaans Home Language (HL) and First

Additional Language (FAL). She believes that a teacher should see his or her role as an “agent of change” as one has an opportunity to change the lives of learners for the better.

She witnesses instances of the daily challenges of social injustice that most of her learners face and feels that her biggest challenge and responsibility is to help them overcome them. One way of enabling the learners to face their challenges and hardships is to motivate and provide encouragement to always be hopeful and positive. “And to me the greatest reward is seeing the difference I make in their lives, and this is what keeps me going,” says Fullard.

“What has sustained and brought me so far in her career is my unique and sincere approach towards learning and teaching, as well as my passion to empower both my learners

and my colleagues, so that they can take up the baton and uplift others.”

Fullard believes in lifelong learning and that teachers should continually strive to grow professionally. “As educators, we need to equip ourselves to keep abreast of the ongoing changes in the profession and ensure that we are truly connected with our learners in the classroom. Learners don’t care what you know, unless they know that you care,” says Fullard.

She said winners of the various NTAs categories should keep their feet on the ground and to remain on course to continue to invest in others, to further broaden their vision and mission and to, hopefully, eventually leave a lasting legacy.

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo reports for the Teacher newspaper, a Mail & Guardian monthly publication. Apart from covering education stories, he also writes across other beats. He enjoys reading and is an avid soccer and athletics fanatic. Thabo harbours a dream of writing a book. Read more from Thabo Mohlala