A Durban-based teacher has been named the winner of the education category in this year's (2008) Shoprite Checkers/SABC2 Woman of the Year Award. Roslyn Nairan-Mohan, a teacher at the New West Secondary School in Durban, was honoured for her work in the Newlands West community.

Nairan-Mohan said a pupil in her class who attempted suicide encouraged her to bring hope to her community through various projects. She tackled the fight against HIV/Aids by obtaining a qualification in HIV/Aids care and counselling and now provides counselling to her pupils and people in her community. She also writes an HIV/Aids education column in the community newspaper...... The Rising Sun.

She broadened this with an HIV/Aids campaign at school in which the pupils of her school and those of another 30 schools in the area, community stakeholders, health professionals and educators got together for an educational week that concluded with a visit to the Siyaphila McCords Centre and the Dream Centre, which are homes for HIV-infected people. Here, the pupils came face to face with the realities of HIV/Aids.

Narain-Mohan also promotes cultural harmony in the community. Under the banner of the Phoenix Inanda Coalition, she has helped to unite the black community of Inanda and the Indian community of Phoenix through sports and cultural activities.

How do you earn your living?

I am an educator.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Newlands West, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.

Which schools and university did you attend?

Briardale Primary School, New West Secondary School, University of KwaZulu-Natal and Unisa.

Did you have a favourite teacher?

Yes, Mr Marcus Bhawanideen and Mr Inderesan Joeseph.

How did they influence you?

They believed in me, inspired and motivated me to accomplish my dreams. These educators were very supportive, always had positive things to say and this helped build my self-esteem and helped me grow up as a responsible, caring and compassionate human being with respect and dignity for myself and the people around me.

Do you still have contact with them?

Yes. When I completed my tertiary education, I returned to the school that I attended as a pupil (New West Secondary) and I have been teaching here for the past 13 years. I have had the absolute pleasure and honour of teaching alongside those amazing human beings who taught me.

What were your favourite subjects and why?

English and Afrikaans. I had excellent teachers. The present principal of New West Secondary was my English teacher and he made the lessons very interesting and the fact that he was prepared, made me want to learn. I enjoyed Afrikaans because I was taught not just by an excellent teacher in that field, but by a teacher who truly cared about my development in the subject. He encouraged me to participate in Afrikaans debates, speech contests, acting in school concerts and I had fun while I was learning. Also, my Afrikaans teacher, Mr Bhawanideen, was a very caring and understanding teacher and this made me really passionate about the subject he taught me.

From your point of view, what are the qualities of a good teacher?

A teacher needs to treat each pupil as a human being, with respect and dignity. This will create a comfortable and conducive environment for teaching and learning. A good teacher is always caring and supportive while always ensuring that he/she is the "captain of the ship". A good teacher will always emphasise a pupil's strengths instead of constantly pointing out his/her weaknesses and will use a more positive approach to ensure that the pupil improves in weaker areas.

What are the things a teacher should never do or say?

Never insult a pupil and make him/her feel unworthy. Never tell a pupil he/she is stupid or has produced terrible results. Never make racist statements or shout at a pupil if he/she has given the incorrect response to a question as this will embarrass the pupil. Never discuss one pupil with another pupil.

What message do you have for teachers in South Africa?

It has become imperative that we as educators adopt a more positive approach to teaching and learning. South African pupils are plagued by many social injustices such as HIV/Aids, poverty, crime and abuse and this hinders their ability to learn. All of the social injustices create barriers to the process of teaching and learning. We must adopt a more holistic approach to teaching. I believe that imparting academic knowledge to our pupils is important, but I also believe that it is important for teachers to instil in their pupils good, sound, moral, social and spiritual values that will help them develop into responsible adults and compassionate leaders of our rainbow nation. There is potential in every pupil. You just need to find the most positive approach to tap into that potential.