2010 TEACH Ambassador reflectionsby TEACH South Africa
TEACH South Africa honoured outgoing 2010 TEACH Ambassadors at its year-end function on Saturday, October 1 at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in Henley-on-Klip, south of Johannesburg. The event was also part of the lead-up to World Teachers’ Day on October 5.
Futhi Mtoba, a founder of TEACH South Africa and chairman of the board for TEACH South Africa, began proceedings by welcoming the Mentors, Ambassadors, educators and dignitaries.
She referred to one of the post-apartheid disappointments being the failure to create jobs. In 1994, 13% of the population was unemployed; today that figure is 37%. Nearly 47% of the economically active is idle, while a staggering 74% of this segment is under the age of 24. Unemployment, therefore, is South Africa’s most pressing socio-economic problem.
In addition, she said, “One of the major questions facing Africa is how can we, in this global economy, become competitive on an a global level?”
“(But) today is a happy day,” said Mtoba. “We honour our students who answered the call to serve the country. You (Ambassadors) are a symbol of our pride.”
She congratulated the Ambassadors on changing learners’ attitudes to Maths and Science. “You also learnt from educators in your schools but became a great resource for those educators. You improved the pass rate in quantity and quality.
“TEACH South Africa is a work in progress. We will continue to correct whatever needs to be corrected.” Mtoba said the Ambassadors’ reflections on the past year were therefore very important.
After Mtoba’s welcoming address, TEACH South Africa Mentor Peter Glover spoke of how much he admired the Ambassadors for bearing with the tough times in order to make a difference. “Over the past two years we so enjoyed seeing young people enthusiastically trying to make a difference, sometimes against all odds.”
Glover introduced five Ambassadors from various provinces who reflected on their experiences with TEACH South Africa during the past two years.
First up was MacDonald Chapwanya who taught Maths at the Masiyile High School in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, a township renowned for gang violence and rampant crime. “There were learners who threatened us, stabbed each other,” he recalled. “Many of them were unmotivated and couldn’t see a future beyond Khayelitsha. A negative attitude is one of the toughest things to work with.
“Not only did we have to teach, but we had to counsel learners who were victims of crime, had substance abuse problems, or were pregnant. We had to be sensitive; not just teach one plus one equals two, but to say ‘I’m so sorry and I love you’.”
MacDonald noted some of the greatest achievements in his two-year tenure as improving learners’ marks, cultivating a positive attitude among them, building relationships, and empowering the learners.
The TEACH South Africa Ambassadors who spoke after MacDonald echoed many of his sentiments. Tinashe Gumbo, who taught English and Life Orientation to Grade 8 and 10 at Lemana High School in Elim, Limpopo, highlighted the welcome and ongoing support from TEACH South Africa. He learnt to prepare for classes, draw up lesson plans, and said the Ambassadors themselves supported one another and discovered a number of common problems such as lack of discipline and commitment. They gave tips to one another on how to deal with these issues.
Tinashe said more needed to be done to improve education in South Africa. “The system is being clogged with learners who fail, and stay on the same grade, sometimes for three years. They are often troublemakers in class, hampering learning and challenging teachers. They need to be sent on to a college, perhaps, or engaged in some other, meaningful way.”
He also mentioned the challenge of trying to teach English, the global language, to learners who were only used to speaking in the vernacular.
TEACH Ambassador Chantelle Hulett, who taught English at Katlehong High School in Gauteng, gave a slide presentation that compared the TEACH Ambassador experience to four phases in the human life cycle - gestation and birth, growing pains, the terrible teens, and the quarter-life crisis.
“At birth Ambassadors are sent out into the field and, just as our ‘parents’ have great expectations of us ‘babies’, so do we need nurture, advice and support.” Chantelle said that in the toddler stage Ambassadors were excited and learnt very quickly, but often stumbled. “But because of our commitment we always got back up,” she said. “And we were more than willing to learn, and to contribute to the schools in other areas such as starting chess clubs and vegetable gardens.”
In the terrible teens, Chantelle said Ambassadors often felt they “knew it all”, but were still unpredictable and insecure, and often ran away in frustration. “But this is a necessary stage,” she said. “In it we have so much to learn and it’s essential to stick it out.”
The quarter-life crisis saw Ambassadors who had worked so hard reach a sense of pride in their achievements. “But at the end of our time with TEACH, our excitement is nevertheless dampened by what will happen next,” she said.
Berkia Banda, who taught English at Healdtown Comprehensive High School in Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape, said he had learnt so much in his time at TEACH. “The pass rate improved, and we made learners aware of how proud we were no matter if they made small progress. The learners also saw us as role models and it was a great incentive for us to improve. At our school we also improved the library, started a magazine and initiated extra lessons.”
The final speaker, Brendan Raubenheimer, was an Ambassador who taught at Fumana Comprehensive in Kathlehong on the East Rand. Originally from Cape Town, he said he was something of an enigma to his Xhosa learners because of his accent. He discovered that his learners had not been exposed to much outside their township, and he had to learn about the Xhosa culture.
He said he was in awe of the willingness to learn and to come to school, despite many of his learners not having food in their bellies and coming from homes with no water or electricity. His classroom of 60 had only 30 desks and 20 chairs, but still the learners came.
“This was the greatest, most awe-inspiring experience of my life,” he said, concluding that he intended to continue making a difference to learners.
All the TEACH Ambassadors extended their thanks to TEACH South Africa for the training, support and the life-changing experience that had fundamentally changed who they are, and given them valuable, new skills.
Andile Zulu, a learner from Katlehong High School, then shared his experience of having TEACH Ambassadors at his school. By his own admission, his school was one of the most chaotic before the Ambassadors’ arrival. He said if the Ambassadors could continue to bring change and come up with solutions, they would make a huge difference to schools in the country. He added that most of the Ambassadors were also young which meant they and the learners understood one another better. He said he was humbled and honoured to have known the Ambassadors and thanked them for the job they were doing – a job that South Africa as a whole could appreciate.