Excellence in Teaching Mathematics (FET)

Farzana Suliman, Zinniaville Secondary School, North West

Farzana Suliman, Zinniaville Secondary School, North West

Winner: Farzana Suliman, 

Zinniaville Secondary School, North West

Farzana Suliman owes her inspiration to becoming a teacher to her former teachers, who were undoubtedly good role models. She says teaching gives her a complete sense of personal fulfilment as a teacher, because she is able to make a difference in learners’ lives.

As a senior teacher she spends many hours doing administrative work and interacting with parents, but she says she derives her greatest joy from interacting with learners in class.

“My classroom remains my precious domain; this is my valued space where I plant seeds and I treasure seeing them grow and blossom,” says Suliman.

Spending the large amount of time on school-based assessments and data collection, he says, places a huge administrative burden on teachers, and she worries that this leaves them with very little contact time with their learners.

She says what keeps her going is her firm belief that education remains a significant tool that emerging nations can use to develop themselves. One of her main challenges that she comes across quite often in her line of duty is the widespread perception that mathematics is a difficult subject. To overcome this attitude Suliman uses play as a strategy to make maths accessible and to address some of the more problematic concepts.

“The sense of accomplishment my learners feel when they come to the conclusion of a theorem on their own is motivating. The knowledge that I can shape my learners’ future, no matter how humble my contribution may be, inspires me to soldier on despite the challenges,” she says.

According to Suliman, teachers should avoid negativity at all costs, because it tends to stifle creativity. She advises them to push themselves out of their comfort zones and surround themselves with colleagues who are positive about growing the teaching profession.

1st Runner-up: Sipho Nyathikazi,
Mjokwane Secondary School, Mpumalanga

Sipho Nyathikazi discovered his innate skills and ability to simplify complex content in an accessible manner when he used to assist his fellow learners with mathematics and physical science during his high school days.

This realisation, plus his desire to contribute to shaping people’s futures, influenced his decision to take up teaching as a career. “The knowledge that I am moulding and preparing learners for their future careers gives me a great sense of accomplishment,” says Nyathikazi.

Nyathikazi teaches learners who live in the communities situated very close to the Swaziland border. He says this exposes learners to a variety of anti-social behaviours, particularly drug abuse. But the main challenge that keeps him awake at night is to motivate some of the learners who have fallen victim to social ills to remain in school.

“Most of my learners are demotivated because of a lack of positive role models in their immediate environment; they don’t see themselves overcoming the poverty and unemployment that is rife in their vicinity,” Nyathikazi says.

He uses creative ways to teach mathematics so that his learners perform well in the subject, which is perceived to be difficult. He uses play-based activities as well as integrating technology into his lessons.

He believes keeping learners engaged maximises the chances of his lessons being easily absorbed. Nyathikazi advises other educators to continue working hard despite the challenges they come across. “Let us be motivated as educators in the knowledge that even though our rewards might not be physical, but the outcomes of our hard work go beyond the individual. We shape the future of individuals, households, communities and the country,” he concludes.

2nd Runner-up: Thoto Samuel Tsotetsi,
Suncrest High School, Gauteng

It did not take long for Samuel Tsotetsi, who had taken a gap year after matric, to decide that teaching is his career of choice. He made this discovery while helping grade 12 learners in his community with their schoolwork.

“Despite teaching not having been on my radar as a career option, seeing understanding dawn in a learner’s eyes and experiencing their excitement when they finally grasp a concept made me realise that I was born for this,” he says.

If it were up to Tsotesi, more time would be allocated to teaching mathematics, as he believes that the time currently allocated for the subject is inadequate for learners to fully grasp all the concepts.

He gets around this issue by providing extra lessons to his learners during recess, before or after school hours, and on weekends. He also relies on rigorous planning and selection of relevant teaching and learning material, which he says enable him to deliver engaging lessons.

“Showing the relevance of mathematics by using everyday life application scenarios when presenting the lesson goes a long way to make learners understand the various theories; I also make it relatable by discussing the history of the various concepts and theorems,” says Tsotetsi.

He advocates a positive disposition, dedication and enthusiasm as character traits that should be cultivated if one is to excel in teaching. He advises teachers to develop strategic plans for possible challenging situations, saying “The only way to survive in this industry is to think ahead, but equally important is to enjoy what you do.”

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