‘Inspirational teachers have a lasting impact’

Susan Wessels is a teacher with a difference. The 43-year-old, who is senior deputy head at Framlingham Collegein Suffolk, was previously an international hockey player. She represented South Africa 148 times and played in two Olympic Games – Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, where she captained the team.

Now, she uses her Olympic background to help navigate pupils through the pandemic and encourage them to achieve. 

She decided to become a teacher after retiring from international hockey – 17 years ago – as she’d seen the difference she was able to make while coaching children. “This inspired me to teach, as teaching makes a difference, with visible results,” she says. “Inspirational teachers can have such a lasting impact on us, and I strive to make a difference in a child’s life every day.”

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‘A unique experience’

Participating in the Olympics is a unique experience, says Susan, which each athlete perceives differently. “Participation means rivalry, effort, exceeding limits and rewards. It means pain and defeat but also building new relationships and worthwhile experiences.”

Susan spent a decade of her life on the international sporting stage, experiencing the knock-backs and glories of the career. “My experiences prior to, during and after the games have helped me develop a positive mindset,” she says. “I have learned how to see life as a series of opportunities. One encounters many obstacles in life, but how you deal with these obstacles defines you as a person.”

These experiences have stood her in good stead for working with young people in school, especially during a pandemic. “I used my experience to help pupils focus on achieving goals, developing mental toughness, and valuing their relationships,” she says. 

A mentoring role

Susan’s role with many of the students during the pandemic was a mentoring one, “nurturing individuals to achieve success in whatever they want to do and reminding them that the obstacles presented by the pandemic weren’t going to defeat them”.

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“Now more than ever, we can see that our pupils are flexible and able to cope in an ever-changing world, dynamic and confident in their skin,” she says. 

The Olympics was about the culmination of years of training, says Susan, making huge personal sacrifices and being totally committed to the goals she had set herself. “The skills that we learn working in teams are the skills that I want every one of our children to have—that sense of commitment to something, responsibility to a team and a drive for what you do.”

She adds: “It was my dream from a very young age to go to the Olympics, but for some pupils, their goal might be to represent their school team, to pass their grade 5 music exam, or get good grades. 

“The most valuable skill children can learn is that the level at which they participate is not essential; it is the passion, life experience, and lessons you learn along the way that make you. And, with hard work, perseverance, and lots of enthusiasm, your goals are attainable.”