I watched as two students of different gender and race, ran across the quad to greet each other after a school holiday. What did it matter? In the context of a truly rainbow school, I saw a culture working at its best. Who sets this tone and creates this norm?
As the husband of a teacher of thirty years and the chair of two governing bodies both high and primary, I have stood on the side-lines of education observing South African life unfold before my eyes. Depending on one’s lens you may have a different perspective. Mine says that the teacher is central to creating the right environment. To setting the tone. To creating the norm. Just like Lewis Carol, my magnifying instrument calls out some observations.
THE LEVEL OF PRESSURE HAS INCREASED DRAMATICALLY FOR TEACHERS
Extra curriculum, after hours, holiday workshops, late night marking, low pay scales, and challenging young people have all resulted in a decline of intake into the profession. The classroom time has decreased and the number of educators on medication or off ill for depression is on the rise. Holidays are no longer such, instead they are now crowded with workshops and the like. I have sat in too many disciplinary hearings where the parents deny any possible wrongdoing on the part of their child whist the educator is put on the spot.
Having worked in the corporate sector for 16 years, I was astounded by the number of teachers seeking alternative employment. As I gaze through my glass, I cannot help but ask what needs to take place to ensure that this profession attracts and retains the right talent again? Teaching must remain a calling and a passion. Are these not moulding the hearts and minds of our countries future?
TEACHER ROLE REDEFINED
Having come back into Scripture Union after an absence of 18 years, many people have asked me what I see as different. From my perspective I tell them three things:
The numbers of children from dysfunctional families have increased significantly. The camps I ran then had probably 10 to 15% of children from a broken home. These days the societal factors border on closer to 50 to 60%. A recent boy’s only camp we ran here in the Western Cape was as high as 70% of absent fathers. These are the pupils in the classroom.
A shift in values. I have seen so many young people with the ‘win at all cost attitude’ –as long as I am not caught! This subtle yet profound penchant towards corruption is not a great sign and for our teachers it is often counter culture. In a matric class, my daughter discovered that she was given more marks than she should have been given. She promptly informed the teacher and a debate ensued about whether she should have rather kept quiet about it. I remain proud of her stand for integrity!
The increase in violence as a methodology to resolve conflict. I took the unobtrusive opportunity at a recent mini- camp to observe the children at a mealtime. I was flabbergasted at the amount of ‘fights’ that either were initiated or randomly broke out. As a school governor for a number of years, the beast of peer pressure is something to behold. This is the world of the teacher.
THE IMPACT OF THE CHRISTIAN TEACHER REMAINS
Having dropped my Wife Wendy countless times at the school front gate, I observed that not all teachers are the same. I am no doubt biased, but nearly each day there was a host of grade 5’s clamouring to carry her bags to class. You can imagine the joy on their faces as they carried out some task for ‘Miss’.
Not too long ago we were invited to a book launch of a past student of Wendy’s. How surprised we were to read from pages 35 to 38 about two significant adults who affected her life, one a neighbour and the second her grade 5 teacher. These pages were dedicated to these two influences. We had no idea that the clothing we would purchase, the numbers of children for which we prayed or took to the Spur for their rite of passage would culminate in numerous chance meetings years later in a mall. Always the same questions “Are you still teaching Miss?” Followed by a quiet word of, “Thank you Miss for what you did for me.” Many values not just taught but caught. A tone set by you the teacher!
DON’T THROW IN THE TOWEL
I recall meeting Tiffany’s grade 1 teacher and my first lines brought a smile to her face as I told her how much I had looked forward to this day and that I had been praying for Tiffany’s first teacher for the past five years. She set the tone for Tiffany and my daughter fell in love with school but more especially with her grade 1 teacher. My daughter has a great work ethic, a love for learning and an appetite to explore. All which started with a ‘moulder of our countries future.’
To all the teachers who have considered throwing in the towel, I understand but may I also encourage you, cheer you on and say, “Get up and keep going!” Look out for those students crossing the quad and great divide. Perhaps you too will get as much joy as I do when that happens in your school.