A teacher from Leeds has won the 2021 Award for Outstanding New Teacher of the Year by Pearson National Teaching Awards.
Zainab Ali, 25, from Leeds has been teaching for the past four years, three of them at her current school Co-op Academy Grange.
Miss Ali who completed her undergraduate degree from the University of Leeds in 2017 with a degree in Philosophy, Ethics, and Religion, and then graduated from Leeds Trinity University with a PGCE degree in secondary RE at Leeds Trinity University teaches religious education and citizenship to children in year seven to eleven.
Miss Ali who has spent half of her career teaching in a pandemic said: “Teaching during the last two years has been incredible. It wasn’t easy at first, it was challenging. It wasn’t just teachers getting used to online systems and remote learning but students as well getting used to it.
“I commend every teacher for their efforts during the pandemic. Teachers who have delivered laptops to students, teachers who did home visits, daily or weekly phone calls, and of course teaching virtually so education wasn’t impacted.
“The students did struggle at first. The school is in an area that has a significant number of disadvantaged students, so it was a challenge at first but there is always an opportunity for resilience and success.”
Miss Ali has known since she was a child that she wanted to become a teacher. She said: “It sounds cliché, but I have always wanted to be a teacher. You hear all the time that teaching is rewarding and that there is no career like it, but it genuinely is the case.
“I love the interactions with students, I love seeing their confidence grow, and I love seeing them overcome challenges that life throws with them.
“let’s be honest, it is not really about the money with teaching, it is the opportunity to bring about meaningful change. It is about creating successful futures for our children and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The best thing about teaching is that “no day is the same”, she says. “It is difficult to pick what is my favourite aspect of teaching. One example is that every day is different and every day there is something to smile about. Seeing children overcome challenges in their daily life is so rewarding.”
During Ramadan, the young teacher put together a ‘daily act of kindness’ calendar to promote compassion and positivity. She said: “One part of teaching is of course academic success, but the other is preparing our students to be individuals and that calendar was one way of doing that.
“It was about promoting kindness and modelling respect and mutual understanding. Although the calendar was created for the month of Ramadan, the priority of the calendar was kindness, it is such a simple trait but when it is modelled it has lasting impacts.”
Miss Ali’s inspiration comes from the women around her. She added: “I’ve been around confident and ambition women all my life, not just my colleagues but my relatives and my mother as well.”
Miss Ali lost her grandmother to Covid last year. “It was the biggest struggle I’ve ever faced in my life.
“At the time I didn’t think I would return to school but having said that I know hundreds of thousands of families have had to endure that same hardship, including some of my students.
“Seeing their strength and resilience inspires me to continue my grandma’s legacy. I take comfort in that, I take comfort in my faith and trust in God, and that helps me be the best version of myself that I can be.
“She always inspired us and took pride in the success of her grandchildren, always boasting about us and pushing that we should never settle for less and I try and take that same energy every time I walk through my classroom door.”
Speaking about winning the award, Miss Ali said: “Winning the award was a surprise, to say the least. Don’t get me wrong there are thousands of teachers who deserve to win the award as well, but it felt good to be recognised for my work.
“I genuinely felt it wasn’t just my effort that was being recognised but the efforts of my school and colleagues, as they are the ones that have shaped me into becoming the teacher I am today.
“It really is a joint award; it is them who have inspired me. It felt great and I felt like I was representing my community and my family and my grandma, who I think would be proud of me.”