A passion you can count on – meet the Western Cape teacher who banished the scary maths ‘monster’

A passion you can count on – meet the Western Cape teacher who banished the scary maths ‘monster’
Lizette Schroeder, winner of the Best Teacher Award in the Western Cape. She strives to make maths easy for pupils at Protea Heights Academy. (Photo: Ziyanda Duba)

Lizette Schroeder’s love and enthusiasm for numbers is infectious – she is the maths teacher we all need.

During her 30-year teaching career, Lizette Schroeder has had one objective: to bring her love of mathematics into the classroom and show pupils how easy the subject can be with the right guidance. Recently, the Western Cape education department recognised her hard work and dedication, handing her the province’s Best Teacher Award for 2023.

Schroeder is the head of mathematics for further education and training (FET) grades at Protea Heights Academy in Brackenfell, as well as a mentor for maths teachers at the school. She told Daily Maverick she was “ecstatic” to have received the award.

“I feel really humbled by all of this because I’ve never done anything for accolades… but to be recognised in this way, it’s very special. I give all glory and honour to God, and then secondly, to the support of my family.”

When Schroeder was in high school, she struggled with maths, and even considered dropping the subject. She can pinpoint exactly when her outlook changed: July 1986, while she was studying for a Grade 11 maths test. A family member with a master’s degree in maths popped in while Schroeder was grappling with the section on functions and gave her a 20-minute lesson that just made things click.

I have never been taught by a teacher with so much love for a subject.

“The next day I went to school, I wrote the test and… got full marks,” she said. “My whole life changed that day in July 1986, and then I decided I wanted to become a maths teacher because I didn’t want learners to struggle like I struggled and I wanted to show them how easy it can actually be if it’s not confusing.”

One of Schroeder’s current Grade 12s, Joel Cedras, said his maths marks had improved by about 15% since he joined her class in 2022.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Daring solutions are needed to solve South Africa’s maths teaching crisis

Whereas before he would skip higher-level “problem-solving questions”, now he completed them with ease.

“Ms Schroeder is extremely passionate about mathematics and she tries to ignite that same enthusiasm and passion in her students. I have never been taught by a teacher with so much love for a subject, and the passion that she has just makes me want to learn in her class.

I have a booklet next to my bed and a pen, in case I’m in bed and somebody asks me [a maths question].

“She adapts her teaching style based on the topic, and she is one of few teachers who understands that us students work better when we collaborate,” he said.

“She made what seemed to be extremely difficult questions easy to understand, and whenever I was stuck, she allowed me to WhatsApp her for help, sometimes even at 10pm. Her teaching has also reflected in my other subjects, such as in IT, where I am now able to problem-solve much better.”

Schroeder uses maths quizzes and riddles as part of her teaching strategy, and heads up the school’s Maths Society each Monday afternoon. Her pupils, she said, knew they could contact her until 10pm each night with questions about their homework.

Western Cape maths teacher

Protea Heights Academy in Brackenfell, Cape Town, where Lizette Schroeder teaches maths. (Photo: Ziyanda Duba)

“I have a booklet next to my bed and a pen, in case I’m in bed and somebody asks me [a maths question]. Even teachers from other schools and my own, when they ask me stuff… then I can just quickly scribble and take a photo and send it to them,” she said.

In her role as a maths mentor for other teachers, Schroeder runs workshops on subjects such as teaching methodologies and setting assessments. She draws from many years of experience, including time spent as a subject adviser in the Metro North and East education districts in Cape Town, and her involvement with the development of mathematics at a national level.

Schroeder won the Western Cape provincial award for Excellence in Teaching Mathe­matics FET in 2022. When teaching maths, she starts by evaluating the pupils’ prior knowledge and ensuring it’s up to standard.

From there, she aims to keep lessons as practical as possible.

“I’ve dedicated my whole 30 years [of teaching] to making maths easier – the understanding of it. So, I always try [to] explain something [in] very basic [terms] and always connect it with what we’ve done before,” she said.

“Another important thing is the mathematical language and terminology, because maths is a language on its own, and it’s important that learners understand the language of maths.”

Making it ‘fun’

Schroeder has helped many pupils during her three decades of teaching.

One of her former pupils, Enrico Oosthuizen, remembers the positive impact she had on his class when she taught them at Groenberg Secondary School in Grabouw, in 2003 and early 2004.

“I love maths. Maths was always my favourite subject … and when I got to high school, I did well in the beginning.

“Once I got to Grade 10, I began to struggle… I had to get an A to be able to study actuarial sciences… [and] at the end of Grade 10, I didn’t achieve my target,” he told Daily Maverick.

You must show the love for this subject before learners can actually love the subject.

“Then [Schroeder] came in. The whole class’s marks improved – all of us, not only me. She made maths fun. It wasn’t that scary monster that we used to know.

“We were actually interested and excited about maths,” Oosthuizen said.

“At the end of Grade 11, I achieved my A and I was accepted at university, and I owe it to her, basically.”

Young and aspiring teachers should teach with passion and put their love for their pupils at the centre of all they do, advised Schroeder. She highlighted the importance of building pupils’ confidence, as this was key to ensuring they succeeded in a subject.

“Do everything with passion. Teach with passion. Work on yourself… Ask for advice [and] reach out for help to improve yourself and your teaching,” she said.

“You must be the example. You must show the love for this subject before learners can actually love the subject. If you do it with enthusiasm and passion and love, then it is contagious.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

DM168 P1


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