Appreciating that we all have different needs and motivations, ACG Strathallan mathematics teacher, Shelley van Tonder, strongly believes in the importance of connecting with her students.
By taking the time to talk with her Year 7 to 10 classes about their pastimes and activities, Shelly is able to structure and align her mathematics lesson-plans around real-life examples to keep the subject interesting and accessible. The experienced educator also draws on a variety of teaching strategies and approaches to ensure her students are always attentive and engaged.
Joining ACG Strathallan at the beginning of this year, Shelly has previously taught maths in both South Africa and the UK since graduating from university in 1998. A keen athlete, she left the classroom in 2009 to teach swimming for 10 years before returning to the maths curriculum in 2019.
What values are most important to you in a school?
Compassion and respect for one’s self and others. I think if you have both these values or qualities, you will grow into a kind and successful person.
What was it that attracted you to ACG Strathallan?
Strathallan has a really good reputation, so I was thrilled to become a part of this team. It is very similar to many South African schools in that it has a good ethos, and I immediately experienced that feeling of ‘family’ which is so important.
What is it that appeals most to you about teaching mathematics as a subject?
Well, I have an absolute love for maths (and sports), so having the opportunity to teach it to others and know that I am helping students to develop a love and understanding of the subject is very rewarding.
What do you personally enjoy most about teaching?
When I see that ‘light bulb’ moment in a student’s head – seeing them suddenly get a certain topic or concept and then just flying through their work and enjoying it because they understand what they’re doing.
If we could ask your past students to describe you in five words or less, what do you think they would say?
Firm, fair and fun.
As a keen athlete and former member of the South African National Water Polo Team, can you tell us a little about your sporting highlights?
In high school I started playing water polo, and during this time I represented my province (Kwa-Zulu Natal) and captained the KZN team. While at university I was selected to represent South Africa from 1996 to 1999. We travelled to the Czech Republic in 1998 and 1999 to participate in an eight nations tournament and it was a wonderful experience to represent my country overseas. We also had the opportunity to play some international home games which was great as there is nothing better than having the home ground advantage!
What do you enjoy doing outside of teaching?
Spending time with my family, mountain biking, swimming and camping.
What advice do you give your students to take into the future?
Work hard, don’t be scared to ask for help and be kind!