Top Cape Town educator recognised in global awards

Steve Sherman, synonymous with out-the-box teaching methods and maths lessons that bring real understanding as well as endless fits of giggles to children in our community, was announced the winner for South Africa in the AKS Global teacher awards.

The CJC caught up with him just before the start of the new school year to find out more about his work and his incredible commitment to life-long learning.

“As a teacher, I don’t expect thanks, I don’t teach to win prizes and I also don’t expect to retire rich! When your skills are recognised and you are placed in the same company as some of the best teachers in the world, I won’t lie it does feel incredible,” said Steve.

Can you take us back to the first quarter of last year — when the enormity of COVID-19 was beginning to sink in. As a teacher, what went through your mind and how did you adapt to what is now our ‘new normal’.

My circumstances were a little different. I am not affiliated to just one school. I provide extramurals to many schools. When COVID-19 arrived, safety protocols meant that I was no longer able to run classes at all of my schools. Effectively, I became unemployed. It’s not a place that anyone wants to be in, but I knew that if I sat around and waited for opportunities they would not arrive on my doorstep. Fortunately for me, I have been in the online space for the past decade so I have a skillset that I could tap into. I began offering free online classes to students around the world. I needed to change my business model to online and I a) wanted to identify the best software to do the job and b) to build an audience.

This worked out as I had 1200 students from all over the world signing up. When we launched our ‘for pay’ model, we manage to secure a small fraction of this. The goal is to build these numbers so that I can grow livingmaths.com into an international programme that can be run from anywhere in the world. When people saw what I was doing online they took notice. I was fortunate to give a Tedx talk as well as receive the Global Teacher Award – in recognition for my work. I believe that COVID-19 will still be around for the first half of 2021 so I will continue to build my online work and find innovative ways to collaborate with international partners.

There must have been some challenges moving to teaching virtually. Do any amusing stories stand out?

Teaching virtually is easy for me – I have over 10 years’ experience but for the students and parents it was new territory. Not everyone is used to muting and unmuting. Not everyone is used to the fact that a camera and mic is on in their kitchen or lounge. I have so many amusing stories about parents that have walked past the camera with their underwear on, as well as face masks of the mud variety, and my favourite is when the parents crawl along the floor to avoid being noticed but can still be seen. I have had some parents that have spoken about interesting things not realising the mics were unmuted and we have also had the occasional background farts that were not only audible but pre-schoolers are not shy to name and shame their own flesh and blood.

Have there been any unintended or unexpected benefits?

A teaching programme like mine is tied to the personality of its teachers. If you have dynamic teachers and they make a connection with students then 80% of the battle has been won. If I want to expand our programme to other provinces or countries, then finding those types of teachers is not a simple task. Taking livingmaths online means we are now international and I can do the teaching. This makes life a lot easier. Other benefits would be that we began offering additional services like virtual birthday parties (no catering, no one hangs around when the party ends and no cleaning up! You get a recording of the party and screen shots – all from the comfort of your home!). Apart from the virtual parties, we have been running corporate team building quizzes, scavenger hunts and Bingo and these have been going very well! Due to the online nature, clients come from all over the world. Most of the best conferences around the world are virtual – I have had the opportunity to attend and present and quite a few conferences over the past year that I would never have been able to attend.

Tell us a bit about your AKS Global teacher award nomination and win.

There are 2 major international teacher prizes on offer. The Global Teacher Prize (with a prize of $1 million) and the Global Teacher Award (a gorgeous certificate).

I was short-listed for the Global Teacher prize but sadly did not make the top 50. Then news came in that I was nominated for the Global Teacher Award and discovered that I was announced as a winner for South Africa. They select the ‘best’ teachers from 110 countries. While I work with the department of education and I know and like many of the officials, I am still an outsider – this means I am automatically excluded for all the national teacher competitions as I am not registered with SACE. Due to the pandemic and the focus on online teaching, my online work received recognition by global organisations and because of the digital nature of my work, they can see what I do.

Published in the print edition of the February 2021 issue. Download the February 2021 issue PDF here.

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