University of Cape Town: ‘A+ teacher’ wins 2020 Stella Clark Teachers’ Award

Hebert Gumbi’s unique teaching style and his ability to connect with students despite their academic level makes him “an inspiration, an A+ teacher” and the deserving recipient of the 2020 Stella Clark Teachers’ Award.

Gumbi teaches accounting at Mathunjwa High School in Vryheid in northern KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). He accepted his award from the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, during a virtual event held on Tuesday, 4 August.

“Teaching is not just about [delivering a lesson] at the chalk board. It’s about making a difference in the lives of learners. Every year, the Stella Clark Teachers’ Award reminds us of the qualities of good teachers,” Phakeng said.

The Stella Clark Teachers’ Award, currently in its 14th year, is a prestigious UCT accolade. It honours the memory of Stella Clark, a language development lecturer in UCT’s Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED) who passed away in 2005. The award pays homage to teachers who have made a difference in the lives of disadvantaged children from marginalised communities in South Africa.

Every year the university calls on students to nominate exceptional teachers who have had a positive impact on their schooling careers and lives. Students are required to send their nominations to the Stella Clark Teachers’ Award committee and motivate why their teacher is suited for this accolade.



“Mr Gumbi is an amazing teacher whose passion for teaching is evident in the way he makes learning a fun and positive experience.”

This year Simosenkosi Tshambi’s nomination blew the committee away. Tshambi is a BCom student, specialising in economics and finance in UCT’s Faculty of Commerce.

“Mr Gumbi is an amazing teacher whose passion for teaching is evident in the way he makes learning a fun and positive experience. He spends a great deal of time helping students not only to improve their minds, but their character too,” Tshambi said.

Classroom strategy

Gumbi creates a “structured and organised” classroom environment and ensures that his learners completely understand the subject material, which enables them to help one another. He believes that inclusivity and a strong in-class community spirit is key to a good learning environment.

At the start of each new term, Gumbi divides his class into “special study groups”, and the class seating plan is structured around these groups to ensure pupils learn from one another. He also pairs academically stronger learners with weaker counterparts to cultivate peer-to-peer learning both in and outside the classroom.

“[No one] completed a year in Mr Gumbi’s class without receiving a prize. It was our responsibility to assist and learn from each other,” Tshambi said.

For the past seven years, Gumbi’s accounting classes received 100% pass rates, and some pupils emerged among the top achievers in KZN.

‘We are all teachers here’

Learners value his integrated teaching approach, which includes roping in learners to assist with his lessons and to teach the rest of the class – this while Gumbi takes a seat at a desk like an active participant.

“With a huge smile he would always say, ‘We are all teachers here; teachers with different qualifications – some with report certificates, others with degree certificates.’ He would then step aside to allow us to take on the teaching role,” Tshambi added.

“Mr Gumbi always demonstrated a record amount of commitment and enthusiasm, even outside the classroom.”

Parents are not left behind. At the end of each term Gumbi hands parents evaluation forms to help assess their children’s progress. He also bases his teaching model around real-life practical examples and often takes his accounting class to the school tuckshop to conduct a stocktake and to help investigate if the business is profitable or not.

“This helped us to enjoy his subject and we kept exploring it. Mr Gumbi always demonstrated a record amount of commitment and enthusiasm, even outside the classroom.”

And with the class slogan, “We are not afraid; we work hard”, Tshambi said his classmates were always motivated and determined to do well.

Respect is paramount

For Gumbi, teaching is second nature. But it’s no mean feat.

“The task is not as easy as people perceive. Indeed, it’s quite challenging,” he said.

The trick to having happy and engaged learners is to always treat them with respect and compassion – Gumbi’s top priority. More than that, he said that he tries to understand each learner’s individuality, as well as their preferred method of learning.

Often, and much to his delight, he also acts as an in-school parent and provides learners with support and advice to help them succeed in other areas of their lives.

“I don’t just teach them by equipping them with the skills and knowledge in my subject. I also teach them to be independent, responsible citizens.”

Gumbi said he is “proud and honoured” to receive the award and committed to always placing the well-being of his learners at the top of his list, to help them achieve “a high degree of success” far beyond his classroom.

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