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Opinion5th October 2015

Swapping South Africa for the south coast – one teacher’s story

Katrien Snyman is a teacher at Ark Little Ridge, a primary school in Hastings. Originally from South Africa, she moved to the UK nearly a decade ago and started teaching again. To mark World Teachers Day, she shares her story.

What made you first want to go into teaching?

My grandad was a maths teacher as well as the headmaster of a small village school. I didn’t know him personally but people who knew him spoke very highly of him as a person and a teacher. My dad was a farmer and campaigned with fellow farmers to establish a primary school on our farm for farm workers’ children. Perhaps that is where the seed was planted for me to go into teaching. I am intrigued by the curiosity children display when they explore the world around them. I really wanted to play an active part in educating future leaders.

What made you come to England? When did you come here?

Well we moved to the UK in January 1997. My husband is a vet and he had the opportunity to explore something different in the UK.

I was a teacher in South Africa for 10 years, but my journey back into the classroom in the UK was not easy because my qualifications were not recognised, I spoke English as an additional language, I had to find a school that was willing to enrol me. Through a supply agency I ended up in St Leonard’s where the headteacher spotted my potential and was willing to support me. I am forever grateful to her for the opportunity she gave me. I stayed for nine years.

And what made you want to join Ark Little Ridge?

After nine years I felt the need for a new challenge and at that time two primary schools in Hastings were joining Ark. I researched Ark and liked what I saw. The ‘six pillars’ approach suited my teaching skills and I felt that would enable me to take my teaching to a whole different level.

I wanted to know more about Ark’s global links, especially with South Africa, Zimbabwe and Uganda, plus the humanitarian work in Eastern Europe. I also was attracted by the bespoke training by professionals and network meetings and to work with young, aspiring colleagues.

Why did you choose to teach maths?

My own experience of maths wasn’t that great at school and I think I can say that for a majority of people my age, it wasn’t good.

And then Maths Mastery was introduced in our school in Year 1. I attended some training days where the idea of having a growth mindset was put on the table. I went back and I thought, ‘It’s a lot to take on.’ Actually, you know what – ‘I’m going to embrace it. I really want to be good at maths and I want the children to have a different experience to what I had.’ I can see it in my children and now I just love teaching maths. I want them to have fun with it.

What do you like about living in Hastings?

The diversity of people, different cultures and the beautiful countryside. Hastings has a unique mix of privileged and less-privileged children in the same system and it is quite rewarding to see how less-privileged children can reach the same level through excellent teaching and parent partnerships.

If you could go back to when you were first starting teaching, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Be more specific about what you want and where you want to go. I think for too long I allowed other people to decide for me. But at Ark it’s much more open – I feel comfortable to go to Sarah, my headteacher, and ask for things, so I feel much more part of a wider community – I’m not just a number. The training is also like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.

Have you got a particular memory; when you really had a brilliant moment in the classroom?

I can think back to several. When you’ve got a child who speaks English as an additional language; has been quiet and been disruptive for the best part of the year and you think you haven’t made any progress and then one day they just come in and they talk in a sentence. I love that.

What is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, or the funniest thing that’s ever happened in the classroom to you?

I was observed by an Ofsted inspector once and I had to do a lesson in a reception class and I had a little boy who got really distracted and turned to the inspector and stuck two fingers up at him! I was looking at the inspector and I could feel the heat rising up my face and he just looked at me and he kind of shrugged and that was the end of the lesson. I got through it and I passed the inspection, but I must say I don’t want that to happen ever again!