Education Student Graduates Summa Cum Laude for Self-Study on Teacher/Learner Relationships
Grade 1 teacher Ms Nontuthuko Phewa graduated summa cum laude with a Master’s degree in Education for her research on supportive relationships between teachers and learners.
Explaining the reason for her study, Phewa said: ‘Most learners at the school where I teach come from the surrounding area with the majority being from low socio-economic backgrounds where either one or both parents are unemployed.
‘Some are from child-headed households as their parents have passed on or work far from home.
‘Circumstances such as these can result in learners being faced with a range of social challenges. These children need support and teachers can play a significant role in ensuring this happens both emotionally and socially.’
With this in mind, Phewa wanted to better understand and evaluate her relationships with her Grade 1 learners and improve her teaching practice by cultivating supportive relationships with them. She believed this would create a conducive, warm and comfortable atmosphere for learners leading to an improved teaching and learning environment.
‘Adopting a sociocultural theoretical perspective on teaching and learning helped me to understand that learning is culturally and socially constructed. This means it is important to pay attention to learners’ social and cultural backgrounds and circumstance, so that I can draw on what they already know to stimulate their thinking and learning and to offer them appropriate support.’
From her self-study research, Phewa discovered that learners should be the centre of learning and that it’s important for teachers to consider carefully any social-emotional factors that might inhibit teaching and learning.
‘Learners need to feel close to us teachers. This means they need to be sure they can trust and rely on us to listen to them and take them seriously. Hence, a key part of teacher self-development is to be able to give yourself time to constantly learn about your learners’ needs and concerns and to make changes in response to those needs and concerns that will improve teaching and learning,’ she said.
Phewa’s examiners say her research is vital and is an under-researched area for teacher development studies. One of them stated: ‘This topic is one that is often taken for granted. There have not been many studies which have examined how teachers might learn more about their relationships with learners and how they might improve these. It is both a privilege and a pleasure to have read the work of Nontuthuko Phewa as it is well-written, carefully crafted and full of insightful wisdom regarding the care and teaching of young children.’
Her supervisor, Professor Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan added: ‘Ms Phewa has been a most rewarding student to work with because of her eagerness to learn and to improve her research capacity and teaching practice for the benefit of young children in her care.’