Siphiwe Thwala

Winner of the Stella Clark Teachers' Award, 2011

The 2011 award winner, Mr Siphiwe Thwala, taught at Siyamukela High, a township school in Madadeni. Mr Thwala had only been teaching for 7 years, but his Mathematics results were already the best in the district. Mndeni Msibi, the Health Sciences student who nominated him, described him as a great motivator, as his ‘voice of confidence’, a man with patience, humility, dedication and commitment, who inspired passion for Mathematics and engaged with his students at an individual level, despite being faced with large classes. Mndeni said that when he taught him in grade 12 in 2009, Mr Thwala had no car, lived far away from school, but was always at school at 6h30 in the morning for extra Maths lessons. There were also extra Maths classes in the afternoons and during the June holidays, he taught Mathematics at nearby schools.

At the ceremony, Mr Twala spoke of the challenge of teaching students through the medium of their second language. He said: “Sometimes you find that learners fail maths not because they don’t understand the subject, but because of the language barrier. As teachers we need to use different languages to make it easier for them.” In turn, Mndeni commended him for his “exceptional teaching methods”. He proceeded to outline how peer learning formed a crucial part of Mr Twala’s teaching strategy:

“He always believed that one understands something better from someone of the same level. So he had his own Mathematics peer educators and I am proud to say that I was one of them. There were two peer educators assigned to each group and every Friday and Saturday we had our own extra classes as learners, where we explained to each other things we did not understand. Learners from other schools were also allowed to join and they did in great numbers. Learning was made a fun process; everyone was given an opportunity to ask the questions they feared to ask in class. As peer educators we always had to be prepared. So this encouraged us even more, to encourage others to learn also. Everyone wanted to be a peer educator so they worked hard to get excellent results.”

Mr Thwala’s extraordinary efforts have been recognized through promotion to Head of Mathematics and Science at Khwezi High, but he has retained strong ties with his former school and has continued to support their Mathematics teaching.