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Sunderland’s Teacher of the Year

When Graham Gottard was announced as the winner of the Student Council Voice Teacher of the Year at the 2019 ACG Sunderland College prizegiving (an accolade voted on by the student body), the audience erupted in delight. The enthusiastic applause continued long after Graham accepted the award in a telling tribute to this popular educator.

Since graduating with a degree from the University of Birmingham (UK) Graham has taught senior Physics in the United Kingdom, Bermuda and New Zealand. His experience across several different schooling systems has given him an appreciation of the advantages of the Cambridge Curriculum, alongside the benefits of living in New Zealand.

“Kiwis are very open and are born problem-solvers, and that’s a large part of what Physics is all about,” explains Graham.

Previously teaching at ACG Senior College (now part of the ACG Parnell College campus) Graham was lured out of retirement to share his Physics knowledge with Year 11, 12 and 13 students at ACG Sunderland.

“I had visited Sunderland whilst working at Senior College, so I already knew it to be an excellent school,” he says. “Their previous Physics teacher, Bill Draper, had been a good colleague of mine in the early years at Senior College and having the opportunity to replace Bill was too good to miss. When Nathan Villars made me an offer, I couldn’t refuse!”

Graham admits that the attitude of his students continues to play a big part to play in his ongoing enjoyment of the role, finding them are eager to learn, open to new ideas and very appreciative of the knowledge and guidance he provides.

“The aspect I enjoy most at Sunderland is the students; their openness, behaviour and warmth. It is a privilege being able to teach these students in such a positive and supportive environment.

“The school has an academic emphasis, supported by excellent pastoral work that puts values such as courtesy, respect and honesty at its core,” he continues. “Nathan Villars and Lawrence Stephens have created a teaching utopia at Sunderland. Along with the staff, they deserve much of the credit for its success.”

As for the secret to Graham’s own ability to connect and inspire his students, the self-effacing teacher credits his success to the straightforward nature of Physics itself.

“Physics is a practical subject; students do lots of experiments and learn through doing. They love to get their hands on equipment and that’s the best way for them to gain insight into the subject. At its core, Physics principles are very simple. They try to explain how things work, from sub-atomic particles many times smaller than an atom, right through to the mysteries of the universe in all its vastness.

“I am still amazed at the marvels Physics has to offer, at how it can be applied to explain the universe: music, ocean waves, spaceships, black holes, solar cells, loudspeakers, the weather. The list of applications is endless, and I think my enthusiasm for the subject rubs off on many students."

Never one to rest on his laurels, Graham believes that the ongoing interaction, new perspectives and constant learning opportunities his students provide are the most rewarding aspect of his job. Passing on his passion for Physics to bright young minds helps keeps the concepts fresh and exciting.

“When students become interested in the subject, they often see things in the subject that I have never even thought of, and the students at Sunderland seem to do this in abundance. I never stop learning from them. Watching students enjoy the subject and succeed gives me great pleasure.”

Reluctant to focus on his own accomplishments, Graham’s advice for his current students is designed to guide their personal success.

“Work hard, get involved, ask questions, do things, don’t be afraid of making mistakes. That’s how we learn. Never give up. Success is just around the corner and the harder you work, the luckier you get.”