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Opinion9th May 2019

Ark teacher stories: “Ark Burlington Danes was the only place I wanted to teach”

Halwest Hussein teaches maths at Ark Burlington Danes Academy, the same school he attended as a student from 2006-2013. He is a graduate of King’s College, University of London.

I grew up in this community and I started going to Burlington Danes Academy as a student back in 2006, which was the same year that the school joined the Ark network. Initially, I did not enjoy going to school and it was tough for me to settle into this new environment.

I had emigrated over from Kurdistan, Iraq just a couple of years before and I was still learning English. This made it more challenging to fit in as I often lacked confidence and hence my first couple of years at the school were tough.

But this school, which had had a bad reputation for many years, really improved under Ark and its new headteacher, Dame Sally Coates. And this is when we saw real improvement in the school, which you could feel in every classroom. I stayed on at Ark Burlington Danes for my A levels, which is when my passion for mathematics developed. Under the supervision of my mathematics teacher Mr. Mapia, I really fell in love with the subject and went on to study mathematics at university. I am really grateful for all the support I received here at Ark Burlington Danes, not only from my teachers but from all the staff who worked to ensure that we have the best life opportunities.

Once I graduated, I had to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wouldn’t enjoy most of the graduate jobs that were out there. I didn’t want to wind up doing anything repetitive or where I wouldn’t be challenged. I wanted something where there was room for growth. I had been doing some tutoring which I enjoyed, so I came back here to Ark Burlington Danes and spoke to the head teacher. I told him I was thinking of doing teaching, and asked if there was any way I could do that at this school. They pointed me towards the Ark Teacher Training programme and now I’m a first year trainee teacher.

It’s funny because, with a maths degree I had a lot of options and a lot of people ask me, “what were you thinking?” But it was never about money for me, I’m motivated by other things. I could have done some other jobs but it wouldn’t have lasted. I need to do something that I enjoy.

Ark Burlington Danes Academy

To be honest this is the only place I wanted to teach. I had a good time as a student here and they taught me so much and gave me the tools and the ability to go on to university. I want to do for other kids what they did for me. I want to give back.

So many of the kids here are really smart and talented but they don’t always have the direction, guidance or opportunities and I want to help give them that. I can relate to them, because this is my community which I have lived in for many years.

I want to show our students that they can get anywhere in life and that they don’t have to let their background hold them back. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you work hard, you can achieve what you want to achieve.

I’ve seen students who have had a hard time concentrating in classes simply because they didn’t have enough to eat. I can relate to them because I was on free school meals when I attended this school. This is a community where people don’t always have a lot of advantages.

Most of them don’t know that I was a student here at this school. A few of the older children know. Mostly they just ask me what it was like back then when I was a student. But it hasn’t changed that much since I left. I walk around and look at the students, the teachers and the classrooms and I feel at home.

Sometimes students will ask me if any of my old teachers are still at the school and of course there are – three in the maths department alone, who all used to be my teachers and are now my colleagues. It was awkward for me in the beginning and I still can’t call any of them by their first names. But it is nice to know that there are still teachers who care so much for these kids from our community to want to continue to teach here for so many years. Those teachers are a real inspiration – I’m here to follow in their footsteps.