Teachers are superheroes who transform society

Johannesburg- Teachers may not wear capes, but they are the heroes in the lives of many people’s journeys.

At the 21st National Teaching Awards held at Emperor’s Palace in Kempton Park on Wednesday, three such educators were celebrated: Nkasana Matlapu, took home the Shero Award; Mariette Wheeler, won as the National Best Teacher; and Masilo Magageng, was honoured with the Kader Asmal Excellence Award.

Matlapu is the principal at the SJ van der Merwe Full Technical High School in Lebowakgomo, Limpopo.

Her achievements include becoming a deputy principal at the age of 27.

The 41-year-old’s love for teaching was inspired by her teachers, who made her fall in love with subjects such as mathematics and accounting,  and her father, who was also a teacher.

“Last year, Covid-19 surprised us all. Suddenly everything had to change. As the school principal, I put together virtual platforms for grades 8 to 12. I made sure I was part of all the groups so I could monitor all the challenges, and there were many,” she said, adding through her networks and alumni, she assisted pupils to get access to the resources they needed to learn.

Matlapu, who started teaching in 2001, also organised grocery hampers for many families who were struggling. She said through efforts of pupils, teachers and the community, including former inmates, they raised funds and refurbished an old hostel that was dilapidated and last used in 2002.

The building is now being used by matriculants to prepare for exams.

“What would have cost R4.5-million was a lot less,” she said.

Magageng is the principal of Lekwaka Primary School in Tlhabane, Rustenburg.

Masilo Magageng.

The 51-year-old said she was 18 when she started teaching as a private teacher.

After matric, she studied for her teaching qualification while teaching privately.

“I went through tough times to get promoted. I worked with a racist principal who refused having a black woman as her deputy. She resigned eventually because I didn’t give up. Then at the current school, where I’ve been principal for five years, they didn’t want a female to lead them. I fought the unfairness because I rightfully deserved it. I went through the correct process and had all the qualifications. Today, they have accepted me, they value me because they see my intentions are to improve the school,” she said.

Magageng said she made sure the community had water, roping in mining companies and her Dutch connections to introduce a water filtration system at the school, which feeds the surrounding community.

“I also keep former learners accountable and remind them their success is a result of this school too, so they must donate to buy school uniforms and school shoes.”

Wheeler, 22, a life sciences and marine sciences educator at the Protea Heights Academy in Western Cape, is the nation’s best teacher.

A former marine biologist, she changed course in 2015 when she pursued a postgraduate certificate in education from the University of the Western Cape.

“I love nature. I love science and I wanted to bring that love into a classroom. I don’t believe that you can learn these subjects by simply opening a textbook,” she said.

Mariette Wheeler

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