Michele Pienaar, science teacher at the Abu Dhabi International Private School, who was among the three teachers honoured in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: A trio of exceptional private school teachers have been honoured in Abu Dhabi on the occasion of World Teachers Day 2021.

The emirate’s education regulator, the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), conferred the awards on Rebecca Vasconcelos, Grade 3 teacher at GEMS World Academy, Michele Pienaar, science teacher at the Abu Dhabi International Private School – Branch 1, and Santhi Gopinathan, head of faculty and computer science teacher at the Abu Dhabi Indian School – Branch 1.

The teachers had first been nominated by leaders at private and charter schools in the emirate, with the top three chosen following a rigorous Adek selection process that considered all nominees’ classroom impact, students’ learning outcomes, differentiating traits, and contributions to the school.

Rebecca Image Credit: S

“Today, we pay tribute to all of Abu Dhabi’s teachers. We thank you for your hard work, dedication, and passion. We recognise that to have a world-class education ecosystem, we need world-class educators, and the winning teachers we celebrate on World Teachers Day embody the highest standards of industry professionalism. They have made a truly life-changing impact on their students and school community, inspiring countless young minds, and have been role models and mentors,” said Sara Musallam, Adek chairwoman.

Empowering children

Speaking to Gulf News, the honorees voiced a dedication to their profession, and detailed their own efforts to empower children even during the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have been a teacher for the past eight years, including three years in the UAE, and it is important for me to help students develop into members of society who look beyond themselves. Creating an awareness of worldly events has always underpinned my teaching, and this is especially important in a country as multicultural and diverse as the UAE,” Pienaar said after being surprised at school with student testimonials, flowers, return air tickets, and a trophy.

Amid the pandemic, Pienaar strove to help her students understand its impact on human respiratory systems, as well as other bodily, environmental and social systems.

“I would like to say thank you to my students past and present for making it easy for me to love my job,” she said.

Santhi Gopinathan, head of faculty and computer science teacher at the Abu Dhabi Indian School – Branch 1. Image Credit: Supplied

For Vasconcelos, the pandemic fostered risk-taking and innovation.

“Education, as we know it, is being restructured, and we, as teachers need to create lifelong learners. The focus is no longer on curriculum content; instead, students need to be empowered with skills to help them take up roles, in the future, that do not even exist today. Of course, as educators, we are always encouraged to innovate, but I have never had to embrace innovation as much as I’ve had to following the pandemic,” she said.

“I am incredibly honored to have been nominated, and to have won this award. It symbolises a token of appreciation and recognition for all teachers who have chosen to take on one of the hardest years in education and positively reflect it into meaningful life experiences for themselves, their students, and their learning community,” Vasconcelos added.

Gopinathan also extended gratitude to her colleagues and students for their support.

“As teachers, we should always encourage our students to face the world. [At the same time,] we should be patient and knowledgeable as no student is the same [as another]. I want to thank the entire school staff and students for their support; I would not have received this award without them,” she said.

Teacher support initiatives

To further support educators, Adek launched a dedicated Teachers Hotline on the occasion. The hotline will serve as a direct communication channel for private and charter school teachers, allowing them to share their suggestions and opinions, have questions answered, and voice any concerns.

A new Adek guide – Welcome to yYour New Home – will also help educators new to the emirate to navigate their new lives, and enable them to become familiar with the education sector.