Passion, creativity and personal connections: this beginner teacher makes student boredom history!

By Samantha Rich, 18 June 2024
Stephen aims to help students make personal connections with History. Image Credit: Gene Ramirez

 

In the corridors of St Paul’s Catholic College, Greystanes the energetic buzz of teenage boys fills the air. Among the dedicated staff guiding these young minds is Stephen Belekas, a first-year History and Religious Education teacher whose enthusiasm and innovative approach are already making a significant impact.

“I’m really passionate about history and religion. All the books I have ever read in my life are somehow related to these topics,” says Stephen. “Teaching allows me to share this passion and help students see the relevance of history and religion in their own lives.”

Stephen Belekas’ journey to becoming a history teacher is rooted in a lifelong fascination with the past. From a young age, he was captivated by stories of ancient civilizations, heroic figures, and pivotal events that shaped the world. This enthusiasm only grew stronger as he pursued his studies. He describes entering the classroom for the first time as a mix of excitement and nerves. At the start of the first term, while diving right into lesson planning, marking and classroom management, Stephen says he did have that moment of self doubt about stepping into the role.

“I didn’t feel like a teacher yet and it was a surreal feeling to be on the other side of the fence when I didn’t feel that much older than the Year 12 students.” Stephen admits.

Now well into his second term, Stephen has established himself as a valuable member of the St Paul’s staff and is a favourite among students. He credits this positive start to the collaborative and supportive culture at St Paul’s.

“My supervisor and the whole teaching team were really supportive and helped me settle in. Everyone at the school has been so understanding and willing to share their own experiences to help me,” says Stephen.

Stephen Belekas is loving his first teaching job at St Pauls Catholic College. Image Credit: Gene Ramirez/CSPD

One of Stephen’s key achievements in his initial term has been his ability to make history engaging for his students. Recognising that many might find the subject dry or irrelevant, he employs a variety of techniques to capture their interest and make the past come alive.

“I strive to make history relatable by connecting it to current events and encouraging students to see its impact on their lives,” Stephen explains. “If you don’t know history, you can’t appreciate the present and the life you have now.”

Stephen’s classroom is a hub of activity where discussions flow freely and students are encouraged to think critically. He often encourages students to find the connections between the history they are studying in the classroom and their own personal history to deepen their understanding. This approach not only keeps the students engaged but also helps them develop essential skills like critical thinking.

Vibrant discussion is a key part of Mr Belakas’ Year 9 History class. Image Credit: Gene Ramirez/CSPD

As a young male teacher, Stephen understands the impact he can have beyond academic instruction. Having attended an all-boys school much like St Paul’s himself, he knows that having positive male role models is crucial. He strives to be a mentor and a positive influence, demonstrating the importance of respect and integrity, and showing them that it is acceptable for men to be vulnerable.

“I see the students as younger versions of myself and I want to empower them on their journey through life and give them advice that I wish I had when I was their age,” Stephen says. “I try to share my own experiences with them when we talk about things like emotional regulation or self-control, anything I can do to help them become compassionate and responsible young men.”

Stephen’s ability to build strong connections with his students in addition to his innovative teaching methods has been a real asset. He takes the time to understand each student’s interests, strengths, and areas for improvement, fostering a supportive and inclusive classroom environment where every student feels valued.

“Mr Belekas makes history fun and interesting,” says Sebastian, a Year 9 student. “He’s always willing to help us understand the material and encourages us to ask questions and think for ourselves. When he talks about history you can tell he is passionate about it, his enthusiasm really shows and it’s contagious.”

Reflecting on his first two terms, Stephen is filled with a sense of accomplishment and anticipation for the future. There is one lesson he has learnt that he would like to share with other beginner teachers or pre-service teachers.

“Being well-prepared is crucial, but equally important is the ability to adapt when things don’t go as planned,” he advises. “Sometimes that lesson you planned might seem like a great idea, until you get into the classroom and realise that your students are zoning out. You need to be ready to change your approach on the fly,” Stephen explains.

In a constantly evolving educational landscape, teachers like Stephen Belekas are a beacon of inspiration. His passion for learning and commitment to his students serve as a powerful reminder of the profound impact a great teacher can have. It may be early days, but Stephen says teaching is an extremely rewarding career choice and can’t imagine himself doing anything else.

Stephen aims to help students make personal connections with History. Image Credit: Gene Ramirez/CSPD

“If you feel like you want to make a difference to young people and witness their growth and transformation, it’s definitely the job for you. Teaching is the only job I have ever had where I’m not watching the clock and waiting for the day to end,” Stephen says.

With thanks to Catholic Schools Parramatta Diocese.

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