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NZ’s Most Inspiring Teacher nominee says he teaches his students to think

Sociology is the most important subject, according to teacher Justin Peters, who has just been nominated by three students for New Zealand’s Most Inspiring Teacher 2016.

“Sociology teaches you critical thinking so you don’t take anything at face value,” he explained. “It teaches you to think for yourself.”

Mr Peters has been teaching Sociology at our school – the only one in New Zealand to offer the subject – for six years. The subject looks in depth at how humans shape the world around them; students grapple with difficult questions such as why divorce rates have skyrocketed; has the feminist movement done its job; is religion irrelevant; and is social media revolutionising the world.

Mr Peters, who turned to teaching after an early career managing high-end bars in London’s West End, has taught students from all walks of life. While a teacher in the UK, he had one student who graduated from Oxford University to become a neurosurgeon, another is serving life in prison for murder.

At our school, his students regularly receive Top in New Zealand awards in their Cambridge examinations. He says Sociology gives them an understanding of the way the world works and an insight into some of the greatest minds on the planet – Karl Marx, Germaine Greer, Cornell West – at just 15 years of age. “They question everything,” he says. “They have to use their brains. Look at the exam structure for Sociology. Describing a theory is worth 30%. Discussing how other sociologists criticise that theory is worth 30%. But discussing what the students themselves think of that theory is worth 40%. They have to argue effectively on their own merits to get those top grades.”

On top of his full-time teaching role, Mr Peters is undertaking his Masters in Sociology at The University of Auckland – he says he didn’t want his teaching to become stale. His dissertation on the medicalisation of mental illnesses combines both his teaching subjects of Psychology and Sociology. “I’ve brought so much of what I’m learning into the classroom. My own study totally changes the way I see things and the discussions I have with the class.”

This is the second time Mr Peters has been nominated for New Zealand’s Most Inspiring Teacher. Overall winners will be announced mid-September.

* From next year we will offer Cambridge IGCSE Sociology as part of a unique Year 11 Diploma, which combines elements of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma and the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). At the end of Year 11, students will be able to choose between the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) and Cambridge International Examinations A Levels.

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