Suaad Hussain, from the Academy of St Francis Assisi (ASFA), was crowned the Teacher of the Year at the Educate Awards, last month.
Teacher of RE, Ms Suaad Hussain, has been at ASFA since 2014 and was nominated by the academy’s Senior Assistant Headteacher, Mrs Andrea St John.
The nomination detailed how Ms Suaad Hussain is ‘an inspiring and unique RE teacher who is dedicated to making a difference to the students at The Academy of St Francis of Assisi and even when times get tough, she has remained truly loyal to her students.’
Ms Hussain is the leader of the school’s Debate Mate programme. Debate Mate aims to tackle educational disadvantage in some of Britain’s most deprived communities and supports the young people of today to find their voices, so that they can become the leaders of tomorrow.
Through Ms Hussain’s determination and dedication, the academy has over 60 pupils attending Debate Mate every week. In 2019, she led her team to the ultimate success when ASFA won the Regional Debate League for the second time and debated as ultimate finalists in the National Debate Mate Cup at the Houses of Parliament, finishing as runners up – the highest place a northern school has ever achieved.
Ms Hussain went to Liverpool John Moores University and initially wanted to develop a career in the media. She said: “I considered teaching as a teenager but when I started university, the appeal of working in the media industry was far too exciting. During my Masters – Politics and the Mass Media, I gained a qualification in radio editing and so when I finished, I volunteered as a journalist with BBC Radio Merseyside and Juice FM (now Capital FM).
“At the same time, I was volunteering at a school, just something to add to my CV, I had thought. I was there for six months when they offered me a job as a Learning Support Assistant, and by then, my passion for media had diminished; working behind a desk, interviewing people on the street had become boring. I even shocked myself that working in education was far too exciting than working at prestigious place like the BBC. I found that working with young people can have an impact on their future and this was far more rewarding.”
Whilst Ms Hussain was a Learning Support Assistant, she received advice from one teacher that has always stuck with her. Ms Hussain explained: “They said to me “Once you sit in a lesson and you think that you could have taught that lesson differently, that’s your moment to apply to become a teacher”. It wasn’t long after that I applied.”
Her inspiration came from her own teacher, Mrs Byrne. when she was at secondary school. Ms Hussain said: “She would always find time for us. Her door was always open, break, lunch and after school. It was a lovely and calm environment in her room, radio was always playing on low, her choice in the day which if I can remember was BBC Radio 2, and then after school she would let us have our station on, which was 96.7 Radio City. Even the pupils who would give other teachers a hard time would mellow out and just work in art; I remember we always felt like we had some meaningful conversations. I always hoped that I could emulate her.”
Ms Hussain found out she was nominated in the Teacher of the Year category back in November 2020. She was then named winner of the highly-coveted award during the Educate Awards Live broadcast on YouTube.
She said: “I was in complete shock when Simon ‘Rossie’ Ross, said my name! I just couldn’t believe it.”
Speaking about what her win means to her, she said: “It means many things. Firstly, that this wasn’t a recognition of just my input, but it was recognizing all the years of when I first started the debate club ad hoc with a handful of members and how it flourished across the school and the city each year.
“If it wasn’t for the pupils in my very first session of debate club, I wouldn’t be the teacher that I am today. I remember my colleague and I in awe of what we’d just witnessed. I had no training, just found a few things on the internet, but it was sheer raw talent from our pupils that I knew I needed to do more for them. Debating is traditionally an ‘upper-class white man’s sport’ to put it frankly, and over the years, I was able to recruit pupils from all race and creeds. Working with Debate Mate over the years have made debating accessible to all race and class.
Ms Hussain, continued: “Secondly, as an ethnic minority, second generation immigrant, I hope that I give hope to minorities in the UK that you can be recognised for the hard work you put in. I don’t think many realise the challenges that we face in our day to day lives.”
In her thank you speech during the ceremony, she dedicated the award to a former pupil. Ms Suaad Hussain said: “I had to honour Fionna Gallardo as it was only right. Fionna and her twin sister Fiorella (Cambridge student – also a Debate Mate alumni) had joined the academy in October 2014, a few weeks after I started. They had come from Colombia and didn’t exactly have a good start to their life in the UK. They spoke highly of life in Colombia and often talked about the extra-curricular activities that they used to do. I just felt that as an adult, who they confided in, I could show them that school could be a place for them to enjoy.
“Fionna, was passionate, intelligent and had the best sense of humour, she had a quick wit which would flow in her speeches. It was her group that won our very first award – Debate Mates Liverpool Regional Competition 2016. Fionna would always be found in my room, during breaks, lunch, after school. She worked on her art, while I marked books and planned lessons. I tried to be the Mrs Byrne for her.”