Excellence in Primary School Teaching

Winner: Phenyo Violet Koka, Dikobo Primary School, Limpopo

Winner: Phenyo Violet Koka, Dikobo Primary School, Limpopo

Winner: Phenyo Violet Koka,
Dikobo Primary School, Limpopo

When she was growing up Phenyo Violet Koka wanted to become a medical doctor, but then she dropped this dream and chose teaching as her profession — a decision she does not regret. Today she is a qualified teacher; she obtained her degree in 2012. She teaches grade two learners at the very school where her academic journey started.

Koka believes the primary objective of the teaching profession is to lay a solid academic foundation for young learners, to guide and nurture their inherent talents. Developing a strong, loving bond with learners, says Koka, is another necessary requirement to create a conducive learning environment where every child feels comfortable to participate actively during lessons.

She uses routine as a mechanism to instil order and enforce discipline among her learners. Koka sees herself as a role model and ambassador to her learners and always ensures she conducts herself in an exemplary manner. “Teaching is truly a calling for dedicated teachers who often work long hours to add value to the lives of their learners. I would like to believe that I am such a teacher,” says Koka, adding that she strongly support the view that “teaching is a fulfilling and rewarding career”.

She praises the idea of the National Teaching Awards (NTA), saying it is a critical platform for the department to demonstrably recognise and reward selfless and hardworking teachers who go beyond the call of duty. Most teachers, she adds, work under trying conditions to change the lives of their learners. Koka also thanked peers from her school, district and provincial officials for their endless support during her teaching career and their encouragement during her participation in the awards process.

1st runner-up: Nicola Macpherson,
Barberton Primary School, Mpumalanga

Macpherson believes teaching is a rewarding profession and that nothing is as fulfilling as seeing a child who has been struggling pass to the next class, or when they acknowledge the role and influence you had in their lives. Before she became a teacher, Macpherson first worked as a pre-school teacher, and later became a primary school teacher. She then enrolled and completed her studies at Unisa — a period she described as “challenging”, as she was a young single mother.

She believes teaching — over and above focusing on the learners — requires close collaboration between both teachers and parents. Macpherson said it becomes emotionally draining when a teacher does not get the required commitment and support from parents whose child needs “professional guidance”.

“It is important to maintain a good relationship with both learners and their parents to enable the child to receive the support necessary to develop holistically,” says Macpherson. Her passion is not only confined to classroom related matters; she is also actively involved in a number of extracurricular activities.

She is a mini-hockey coach and also organises fundraising events to assist learners who cannot afford sporting equipment. Macpherson is also an avid swimmer and is a swimming coach and a team manager for Foundation Phase junior swimmers.

She strongly believes in teamwork and that a lot can be achieved when teachers share “best practices”. It is for this reason that she is training and encouraging her colleagues to become swimming coaches. Macpherson also encourages learners to get involved in extracurricular activities, because they promotes physical fitness. They also, says Macpherson, expose children to different sporting activities that they can pursue after they have completed their schooling.

She says that despite the challenges facing the education system, she is inspired by the appreciation and dedication displayed by her peers and some parents. She strongly supports the NTA, saying the awards have deepened her passion and commitment to the teaching profession, and she thanks her colleagues and the school management team for valuing her contribution.

2nd runner-up: Pulane Selina Motloung,
Motshepuwa Public School, Free State

Pulane Selina Motloung is an Honours Degree graduate from the University of the Free State. She started her teaching profession in 2015 and now teaches grades five and six learners. She is a firm believer in the saying that “teaching is the mother of all professions” because “it can touch lives and make change happen”.

Although her school faces the challenge of overcrowded classrooms, she goes out of her way to create time and space to attend to every single learner in her class. This, she believes, makes every one of them feel valued and appreciated.

“As a teacher, it is important to build and foster a two-way trusting relationship with the learners and also provide solutions to the challenges they experience on a daily basis. An excellent teacher should also be a good listener,” says Motloung.

She believes in the importance of literacy and that learners should be taught the basics on how to read for comprehension. As a way of promoting the culture of reading among the learners Motloung, has established Reading Clubs where learners review and discuss books on Wednesdays at the school’s Resource Centre. Other related literacy initiatives she introduced include a “support wall” in the classroom, where English words are translated into Sesotho, and an international pen pal project, where learners interact with their international counterparts on reading matters.

Motloung says to stimulate and continuously engage learners, teachers should always strive to be creative and introduce innovations in the classroom. “Every child is a masterpiece in the making, and learning barriers can be overcome if each one of them is supported according to their needs,” she says.

She says she feels immensely rewarded and fulfilled when her learners’ vocabulary and sentence construction improves markedly. Teaching should, Motloung adds, encompass and promote the holistic development of the learner. This is why she introduced netball to the school and is encouraging the learners to take part in extramural activities to improve their self-esteem and live healthy lives. Motloung is also a professional netball umpire.

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