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“I have become a teacher’s teacher”: Q&A with Ponjul Zwalda, MEd ’14

By The Room 241 Team August 23, 2017

For the past twenty-one years, Ponjul Zwalda has impacted the lives of countless students in Nigeria and South Africa. As a math and science educator, he is determined to show students what they are capable of, while continuing to find ways to improve his practice, focus on his students as individuals, and analyze the bigger picture.

Can you share your educational background with us?

I finished high school in 1992. In 1996, I bagged a National Certificate in Education (NCE in Mathematics/Geography) which is the minimum teachers’ qualification in Nigeria. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 2005 from the University of Jos, Nigeria. About three years ago, I completed a Master of Education in Educational Leadership from Concordia University-Portland.

What are you currently doing or what have you recently done that you’d like to share with
fellow educators?

I am currently a mathematics and natural science educator in a public school in Johannesburg, South Africa. This year marks my 21st year as an educator; the better part of that time, I’ve served in Nigeria. I moved to South Africa in 2010, the year the World Cup was first hosted in Africa. I have always dared to be the teacher who inspires learners to become the best they can ever be, and to love mathematics. Just last night I got a message on Facebook from one of my former students, expressing her appreciation for touching her life as her mathematics teacher. She said “you laid the foundation for the friendship I have with mathematics. You played a role in instilling the ‘I can’ attitude, and that even if I am not the only best, I can be one of the best and that’s one of the principles I carry with me…Thanks a lot. The world needs more teachers like you.” To me, that is success and fulfillment.

What inspired you to become an educator?

Honestly, I didn’t set out to become a teacher. I wanted be a pilot. I secured admission to the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology in 1997 to train as a pilot, but my parents couldn’t afford the enrollment fee. So I decided to pass time at a teachers’ college studying mathematics/geography, which I thought would foster my flying pursuit. The opportunity for flying school finally came over three years later after I graduated from teacher training and had started teaching. But I learned to love the teaching profession, which I now consider the noblest profession there is.

What have you continued to utilize from your education at Concordia University-Portland?

Concordia University has played a profound role in my becoming a better educator. The experience has sharpened principles and notions around education that I held prior to enrolling at Concordia, and I have become a more confident teacher. Since graduating from Concordia, I have become a teacher’s teacher. I’ve facilitated teachers’ discussions at my school and share experiences on best practices.

One of the many things that I use very often with my students, and that I have shared with my colleagues, is the Metts Modality Inventory. This helps me discover my students’ learning styles and I fashion my lessons accordingly.

What keeps you motivated?

What keeps me motivated as a teacher is the impact I am able to have on my students. Students like the one who recently wrote to me, who is now at the University of Cape Town, just make me want to do more and become better.

What do you still hope to achieve as an educator?

Unemployment and poverty is what many young people grapple with in South Africa and in Africa by extension. The question on my mind is: How can we change this reality for the many dreams that are crushed, and how can we maximize the potential of the many young people who graduate from our school? Most of our students are heavily reliant on government for employment and so they do not know how to go out there and create opportunities for themselves after tertiary education. Could the problem be the way our curriculum and our education system has been designed—to make them dependent? I want to be able to provide answers to these questions for my students through research I plan to undertake in the near future.

Thanks, Ponjul!

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