Profile: Sue Van Dort, Teacher, St George's School

Can you give us some background on your career in teaching?

I completed my teacher training (B.PrimEd) in South Africa in 1987. I taught at a state school for a short while and then began teaching at independent schools – Deutsch Schule Pretoria, Deutsche Schule Cape Town, and St Andrew’s College Grahamstown. After having two lovely daughters I spent time teaching infants and young children to swim, something I feel is a vital skill. When we moved to New Zealand, I started working at a swim school in Whanganui as well as doing relief teaching at St George’s School. I have taught at St George’s full time since 2004 and have loved every moment. The “curriculum freedom” in independent schools really appeals to me, and the fact that we are supported by colleagues and good leaders to continually explore new ways to support students and improve our own practice.

Were there enlightening moments or inspirational people to set you on your way to a career in teaching?

My secondary school biology teacher, Mrs Knight, is the one who really made me want to be a teacher. Her positivity and energy made us all want to learn and strive to be the best. I have also worked with many inspirational colleagues, who I have tried to emulate.

You recently won an ISNZ Honours Award for Service to Teaching. Can you tell us a bit about your teaching methods and how you support your students to be their best?

I don’t really have any ‘out-of-the-box’ methods, but I really enjoy the kids I teach. To me the most important thing is to actually have a good relationship with them. Asking the kids for feedback about what I am doing helps me adapt my approach and improve my teaching continuously. Being available and getting involved in various activities we do as a school and supporting kids in their passions is part of what I have always done.

You also organise life-saving training for the students. How did you get involved in this, and how do the students benefit?

On receiving a permanent position at St George’s, I was introduced to the Life Saving programme by two wonderful colleagues. St George’s has a proud history of competing in the Interschools Life Saving Competition, and it is a joy to train these children and empower them with a skill which they could really use one day. We train intensively early in the school year for about three weeks. The training culminates in an interschool competition. We have students from Year 5 to Year 8 keenly participating. They come away confident that they could help someone if they had to. It teaches them about working well as a team and that with a teammate they can achieve so much more than as an individual. Students love taking part and every year the interest levels increase.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the fact that every day is different and that every year I get to work with and get to know a wonderful new bunch of truly awesome kids. There are many surprising moments in most weeks, and it is great when you see a child you are teaching or have taught have an ‘aha’ moment, growing in self-belief and confidence.

What do you most want to achieve in your role?

To leave each child I teach with a lasting happy memory of their time at St George’s.

What do you see as the benefits of working at an independent school?

The support to grow professionally and develop my creativity is a top benefit, plus the regular and relevant professional development and the great collaboration with colleagues.

What are your thoughts on the benefits of independent schooling for students?

Children really grow and ‘come into their own’ in independent schools. The support, opportunities and challenges offered to students are just that much better in an independent school.