TAFE SA lecturer Zuzanna Gamrat has been helping new migrants cope with their culture shock, language barriers and settlement needs for more than 30 years and continues to be inspired by their achievements.
A teacher in TAFE SA’s Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), Zuzanna has helped develop a flourishing community program and says her strongest motivation are the students who come to class regularly, despite having multiple barriers to learning.
“Teaching in the community is different and it’s not for everyone. You have to be flexible and compassionate, the students come with many challenges, they’re traumatised, they have health issues and they’re busy with businesses,” she says.
“Despite all that’s going on in their lives, they still come to classes, and I admire them.”
Zuzanna has recently been recognised for her commitment to migrant education with a national Outstanding Achievement Award presented as part of the AMEP’s 75th anniversary.
She says she was honoured to be nominated and “overwhelmed and humbled” to receive the award.
The AMEP is a Commonwealth-funded free service for eligible migrants with low English levels, providing language tuition and practical settlement information. TAFE SA is the sole provider of the program in South Australia.
Zuzanna, who is originally from Poland, was living in London and working as a teacher before moving with her husband to Adelaide in 1990. She started work as a relief teacher with TAFE SA in the same year and, in 1993, she won a contract in the AMEP.
Since then, she has worked with AMEP students across all certificate levels and a major focus of her work has been making English language tuition accessible to more people through evening and community classes.
“One of my biggest achievements was coordinating the AMEP’s evening program for over 10 years; in the year 2000 we started with three classes, and I built it up to 12,” Zuzanna says.
She has also achieved outstanding results as the coordinator of English classes in the community, growing the program from six classes to 39 over 12 years with some “fantastic teachers” and volunteer home tutors.
“It’s not only my achievement, but also my team members; we’ve focused on the students and their needs and that’s why we’ve been successful together,” she says.
The key has been providing flexible, part-time tuition in locations close to migrants’ homes and shopping hubs, which has been especially important for those who can’t drive and others who spend much of their time caring for young children or sick family members.
Zuzanna has been quick to identify areas of need and source venues for classes, as well as navigate cultural barriers and encourage students to attend.
In 2020, several community classes were relocated to TAFE SA’s Gilles Plains and Regency campuses to meet demand for larger spaces and the classes are still growing.
Zuzanna continues to teach at Marion and describes her multicultural class as a community that looks out for each other.
“The classes are a strong support for many students who are otherwise isolated. They share morning teas and celebrate cultural festivals such as Eid, Diwali and the Chinese New Year,” she says.
“This offers a unique opportunity to learn about each other’s cultures and value what each person can contribute to the group.
“We’re very proud when the students get jobs and we always celebrate when someone gets their driver’s licence.”