Aiming to be the best | Sunday Observer

Aiming to be the best

As an infant she left this paradise isle with her parents for greener pastures. Now three decades later she shines in her second home, Australia. Ms Yasodai Selvakumaran, 31, a humanities teacher at Rooty Hill High School in Sydney’s west, has gained considerable recognition around the country and has come even closer to being named one of the best teachers in the world.

She is currently in the top 10 finalists, a champion for change and an inspirational person.. However, in her short teaching career of only eight years, Yasodai has managed to consistently achieve high results with her students. As time permitted, she was generous in giving Youth Observer a seek peek at her life.

Q: First of all, congratulations!How does it feel being in the top ten?

Being a finalist in Dubai was the most incredible experience of my life. Meeting not only the top 9 finalists but the top 50 and being part of the Varkey Teacher Ambassador program was so rich professionally and personally. It was my first time in Dubai and meeting other Varkey Teacher Ambassadors from previous years was a highlight. I especially connected with the research presentations in the leadership summit and enjoyed being a part of many of the other top ten finalists’ master classes.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and how do cultural differences affect your approach to teaching?

I was born in Colombo and my parents migrated to Australia when I was 10 months old. I grew up in rural and regional Australia. First, in a small town of 3000 called Hay and then from 10 years to 18 years in a regional town called Bathurst with a population of 30,000. Cultural differences are more than just about religion or ethnicity. For me, changing schools between towns and moving to Sydney for University taught me that belonging somewhere is crucial in a new context. This impacts my teaching, and I strive to make all students feel welcome, to know them and give them opportunities to bring their backgrounds and shared experiences to class.

Q: How do you find teaching children with non-English speaking backgrounds?

At Rooty Hill High School, 50% of the student body is from a non-English speaking background. I love working in a context that is so multi-culturally rich and we can learn so much from each other. I strive to create opportunities for students to learn about themselves from each other and the place they want to create for themselves.

Q: Do you think it’s important for teachers to extend their responsibilities to pupils outside the classroom?

Absolutely. Teaching is about connections and some of the greatest influences I have been able to make have actually been with students I didn’t teach but was involved with in regard to additional programs and extracurricular activities.

Q: What are your personal goals for your teaching career in the next 5-10 years?

I aspire to work further to enhance my expertise as a Humanities Teacher and as a leader of other teachers. I want to complete my post graduate studies in Education Research that I am juggling part time to be able to lead teacher led research more effectively. I think it is crucial for teachers to be able to have more influence on guiding policy in Education and that bridging the research practice gap is part of that.

Q: What inspired you to become a teacher?

​I’ve always been a keen learner and have enjoyed being with people and from being a keen young team player in sports I went on to even coach and refereeing. I realised later in my high school years that I was very thankful for the roles my teachers had played for me and family friends who were mentors. I also had a passion for History and wanted to make sure that stories and historycould be uncovered. I completed a double degree in Education and History and it was actually some other roles in Education working not for profit and mentoring for the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience that really confirmed for me that I wanted to be in Education. I had the opportunity to experience these before my actual teacher placements and I found them very challenging and inspiring and knew then I’d be in the classroom.

Q: Do you think your role as a teacher is respected by your students? By the population? By your family and friends?

​I think my role as a teacher is respected by my students but as for the population, there is a misconception about the nature of the work teachers do. Often people draw attention to the extensive holidays we get or think our working hours are nine to three. People are surprised when I tell them we have classes off line from 7:30 and meetings that go late. My work as a leader and the classroom preparation and marking is on top of this. If society understood that many teachers I know work more than 50-60 hours a week, I think there would be more respect. My family and friends realise how hard I work and that I also play a lot of other roles to advocate for the teaching profession. Often, this takes me away from time with family and friends and this is a juggle. They of course are very supportive and incredibly proud of my achievement as a top ten finalist.

Q: Would you recommend teaching as a profession to a close friend or relative?

Yes - but only if they like children, students and know that the work is constantly changing, and inspiring and requires passion and hard work.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

Continually learning.

Q: What would you say are the most challenging aspects of your job?

Managing workload with family time.

Q: What are the most important qualities you think a teacher should have?

Passion, a love for learning and genuine care and drive to work with students, teachers and the community.

Q: What are the areas in which you don’t spend enough time in your job?​

Working with other teachers to collaborate. This creates the best opportunities for students and if we had more, I believe the whole system will benefit with regard to innovation and results.

Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the teaching profession?

Teacher status throughout the world. It is essential that this is respected in order for the expertise of teachers to be recognised and developed throughout their career continuums. This is essential to do our best for our students.

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