TEACH South Africa is building a force of leaders who have the perspective and commitment necessary to effect long-term, fundamental changes that will make South Africa a stronger, more successful nation.
After their two years in the classroom, our TEACH Ambassadors will go on to work in a variety of fields. Many will continue to teach, while others will enter the private or public sectors.
The TEACH South Africa experience will have a significant impact on their lives, both personally and professionally. Through this intense personal challenge, they will develop an advanced set of leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills. At the same time, they gain an understanding of educational inequity and its solutions that is foundational for a lifetime of advocacy and civic leadership.
Alumni build a network of colleagues, friends, learners, and learners’ families, who become an ongoing source of personal and professional support. TEACH South Africa will also facilitate networking to take place between alumni. For those who do not want to remain in teaching, TEACH Ambassadors will be facilitated in their search for employment by TEACH South Africa partners. There are possibilities for some TEACH Ambassadors to receive employment at TEACH South Africa, if suitable vacancies arise.
Heeding the Aumni call in style - Tinashe Gumbo
Tinashe Gumbo is an LLB law graduate of the University of Fort Hare who was part of the second TEACH cohort of 2010. His cohort not only championed the expansion of TEACH works into other provinces, but also breached the rural divide for the first time. All alone, he flew the TEACH flag high at Lemana Secondary School in Limpopo province.
After a year-long break from teaching I was delighted when I got the offer from TEACH South Africa to extend the community work which I had started in 2010 in Limpopo. This time the call was to go and teach at a primary school called Tshukudu. Tshukudu is situated about 50km outside Ellisras, a booming and busy town in Limpopo province, and caters for close to 900 learners and has 28 educators.
I joined Tshukudu at the beginning of the 2013 school year, when I received a very warm welcome from colleagues and leaners. Call me biased, but I should say that Pedi people are the most humble, friendly and courteous people I have come across. There is a strong spirit of Ubuntu around this area.
My journey so far has been exhilarating. I’m surrounded by colleagues with a positive attitude, and they are very passionate about learner development and improving the quality of education. Special mention goes to our clients, the learners, because within such a short period of time I have noticed their eagerness to learn and their hunger for knowledge. In the teaching profession, positive learner attitude is every teacher’s dream.
Teaching at a primary school was a bit of a challenge at the beginning, given that my first teaching experience was at a secondary school. It takes patience, hard work and a lot of dedication to be an effective educator at this level. Hats off to all the primary school teachers out there! I personally took this as an opportunity to empower and mould these young lives before they get corrupted by the dark forces of this world. As the old saying goes, “strike while the iron is hot”.
I would say my major challenge was the language barrier between me and most of the learners. The school is in an area where people speak Pedi. The learners barely communicate in English, and it was a bit of a setback for me. Even simple instructions could not be easily understood. I also realised that quite a considerable number of my Grade 7 learners had some difficulties reading.
To curb this problem I had discussions with some of my colleagues and the idea of starting a reading club came up. I then initiated the reading club. At this club we stay for at least an hour after school and do nothing else but read. I’ve already noticed a significant change in the learners’ participation in class and they have great potential to even do better. More reading material would be appreciated, mainly storybooks from well-wishers.
I was thrilled by the recent English educators’ meeting, when the other educators demonstrated an interest to have extra reading lessons in various grades. I believe this initiative will develop the school and improve results, not only in English but in all subjects.
Tshukudu Primary School is also doing a great job in the community by providing typing and photocopying services. However, this often proved disruptive to teaching and learning as members of the community would show up at any time of the day to seek these services. As one of the educators responsible for photocopying and typing, I suggested that they should start coming at 2pm. This has improved our service as parents don’t disrupt teaching and learning any more. Furthermore, they don’t have to wait too long to have their documents processed.
I would like to thank TEACH South Africa for affording me another opportunity to get involved in uplifting the community. There is nothing more gratifying than reaching out to give others a hand. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” TEACH South Africa is doing a brilliant job to improve the quality of education in this country and this is the best investment one can make for the future of our nation.
Affecting change high in the mountains — Sipho Nhkoma
Sipho is a University of Pretoria BA graduate and is part of the TEACH South Africa maiden cohort plying their trade far away from the city lights. Like a true TEACH Ambassador, he gracefully welcomed the challenge of working in the mountains at Dipone High School, specialising in teaching English First Additional Language.
The 10th of January 2011 marked the beginning of a journey that will never be effaced from my mind. This was the day that I embarked on an unbroken two year quest to change the lives of learners in a remote, secluded village of Bochabelo. This village is situated in the heart of the Drakensberg mountains in the Maruleng municipality, a municipality that takes pride in rich agricultural strength and a vastly prospering tourism.
The village, being isolated from other villages, only has two schools that serve the greater community – a primary school as well as high school. I was assigned to work at the high school, called Dipone Secondary School. Dipone simply translates to ‘lights’. The school, being the only secondary school in the area, is said to be the pride and light of the community.
From the institution, one gets a great view of the beautifully elongating and undulating Drakensburg mountains, with their fine-looking grey hair. The river that crosses between these mountains bestows a gentle breeze during the winter season.
Arriving at the school for the first time was quite an experience (and I write this with a smile on my face). My first day was confronted with a string of confused faces from learners to educators, and I think it’s worth mentioning that some of the learners looked the same age as me and my fellow Ambassador, Julia Mahlatsi.
Having said that, you can imagine the uproar that took place at the assembly when the principal introduced us as the new educators. The staff welcomed us with mixed feelings, as if unsure whether we were volunteers from a youth organisation or actual educators.
All this, coupled with the thought of hiking for more than 15km up the mountains from home to school on daily basis, was pretty unsettling. However, all this dispersed within a short period of time as we blended in with the culture of the school. The fact that we could hear iSepedi proved to be a significant catalyst in helping us to acclimatise.
Throughout my stay at the institution, I have grown from the young man I was the first day I walked through the school gate to an inconceivable care-giver, a parent to many of the children, and I say this with the utmost of gratitude. The school is home to a majority of learners who are from child-headed families and a lot of families living under the poverty datumline.
Throughout my stay, I strived to become a role model to these learners. I received a lot of positive feedback from a lot of them – maybe because of the fact that I was friendly and young, therefore they could relate to me easily. And the best lesson I took from this is that respect is a two-way trait – if you give it, you receive it back ten-fold – and that the greatest of relationships are built upon trust and mutual understanding.
My most memorable moment was when a learner came to me and told me how much she appreciated my presence at the school. She proudly told me how not only her language skills improved, but her confidence as well. She sadly told me that she knew I was not going to be with the school forever, and that she wanted me to try my best to stay with them. I could feel tears ready to flood my eyes. These and other great moments I have had with the children will forever remain moments engraved in my mind.
However, it hasn’t been a journey filled with only joy. There are moments I wish I did not experience, like the riots that were sparked off by the province’s text book debacle.
The learners were demanding that the school should use a ‘pass-one-pass-all’ policy, since it was not their fault that books were provided late.
Upon realising that their demands were not being met, they decided to put matters into their own hands. What started off as a peaceful demonstration deteriorated into a messy insurgence, coupled with vandalisation of property with rocks being thrown at the windows and anything that stimulated memories of learning in their minds. Fearing for the safety of our lives, we were advised to evacuate the school as the police came to pacify the restless souls.
This mountain climbing exercise demonstrated to me, that the ambassadorial call transcends beyond physical limitations. For me, the thought of the needy learner high in the mountains was all it took to convince my body to find my way to Dipone, and the more I interacted with the learners, the shorter the distance became.
“Don’t be afraid to step on a few toes to do some good” — Berkia Banda
Following my graduation from the University of Cape Town, I joined TEACH South Africa as an English Ambassador at Healdtown Comprehensive High School in Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape from 2010 until 2011. I was posted there with a Science Ambassador named Kwanele Ngwenya. In my two years there, I taught Grade 9s, 10s, 11s and the two matric classes of 2010 and 2011.
In a nutshell, I enjoyed my time teaching very much. I found it fulfilling, enjoyable and something I looked forward to, with each sunrise. Teaching had never been part of my career plans but the TEACH South Africa experience truly made me realise that this job provided me with the perfect platform to effectively use my verbal skills (yes, I do talk a lot in case you were wondering).
Although it’s hard to choose my best moments, the ones that stand out were: starting a library with the help of the learners, Mr T. Hagsphil (principal) and St. Stithians College; helping the matric English First Additional Language pass rate improve from 30% to 100% with about half of these above the 50% mark; and starting a learner-run newsletter where the learners wrote stories that were of interest to them.
However, it was not a walk in the park and I faced many challenges. Chief among them was a culture of indifference that characterised most of the staff members whom I worked with. Unfortunately, this filtered down to the student body and it made it hard to motivate some of my learners.
I witnessed many incidents of maladministration which contributed to the resignation of the principal at the end of my first year. Added to this, was a feeling of being treated like outsiders at times which needlessly resulted in an ‘us versus them’ mentality.
If I was to be a TEACH Ambassador again, the one thing I would do differently would be to use all the external resources available to me fully, to effect positive change in my school, i.e. support from individuals, mentors and other organisations.
To budding Ambassadors, I would say in your two years don’t be afraid to step on a few toes to do some good, because never in the history of South African education have so few owed so much to so many with so little over such a short period of time.
Currently, I work for a magazine called Screen Africa in Bryanston, Johannesburg. It deals with broadcast, television, film and new media news. I update the website and prepare images for distribution on the website and other platforms on the internet. I also blog on political, cultural, social and media issues (www.norushinafrica.wordpress.com).
I would certainly love to go back to teaching if given the opportunity one day, for I feel that I left the field at a time when the engine had just warmed. In the long term, I would love to get involved in education especially in a capacity that would allow me to use my media background to help improve learners’ access to information related to their learning areas.
My journey so far (part 1) — Brian Moneni
Being a TEACH South Africa ambassador is not quite the same as being the South African ambassador to China, but I have always marvelled at the strikingly similar responsibilities that the two posts carry. This year, 2012, marks my fourth year as a TEACH South Africa ambassador.
I belong to the maiden cohort of TEACH ambassadors who were deployed to Ekurhuleni South District in the Thokoza, Vosloorus and Katlehong informal settlements. Soakedto the bone with six weeks of instruction on outcomes based education, I landed at Encochoyini Primary School in the sprawling informal settlement of Phola Park, a jutted end of Thokoza’s western fringes, where I was to teach English as First Additional Language (FAL) to Grades 6 and 7.
My first two years, well especially the second, was a hotchpotch of experiences. I arrived at the school with an overflowing appetite for excellence. I went along really well during 2009, which was a magnificent year, until the beginning of 2010 when I started to experience huge challenges.
However, I would like to make mention of my heartfelt gratitude to the Principal of Encochoyini Primary School. She remains, in my opinion, as Thomas Hardy refers to Bathsheba in Far From the Madding Crowd, “… the stuff of which great men’s mothers are made”. I always found her supportive and ready to find time to sit down and listen to my problems.
She always gave her best to pull any loose ends closer together. She is the kind that never raises a voice unless the subject prevailing holds some comic relief or effect. I sincerely wish to thank her for the professional sense of diversity with which she always approached issues throughout my stay at her school. There were other outstanding characters as well, and to all of them I wish to extend my profound gratitude.
So, 2011 saw me taking the long trip to Pretoria, when I was deployed to Phumzile Primary School, a small but robust centre of learning in the Soshanguve north where I am still posted. Initially I taught English FAL, however, since then I have also taken up Social Sciences and EMS.
It is at Phumzile where I have discovered that making a difference in the lives of these young school children takes a lot more than the sheer will to teach. It takes much more than going to class on time every Monday to Friday to talk emotionally about how one plus one accurately put together should give us two with no possibility of a remainder.
Let me take this opportunity to thank TEACH for not only bringing me on board but for nurturing my talent: that of touching lives academically. The follow-up article will give an account of my experiences at Phumzile primary school.
Enthusiasm and concentration: my weapons of change — Munyaradzi Masiwa
I believe, that to be a successful person you ought to have served your community at some point in time, either by being a civil servant, doing voluntary work, or donating either your intellect, physical power or part of your wealth.
I learnt about TEACH through a friend who happened to be a campus co-ordinator for TEACH at the University of Fort Hare. I was so excited about the idea and thought I had found the platform to serve the community and give back to those who helped me reach the heights I already had.
The interviews were tough and rigorous – at some moments I doubted my capabilities. I did not want to be deprived of this prestigious opportunity to serve society, so I had no option but to make it through. TEACH was the best way to showcase my passion and mark my journey to becoming a responsible global citizen.
The journey had its ups and downs – I wanted to execute my duties and deliver to my best capabilities but there were many challenges. My first year was tough.
I had the knowledge but did not have the necessary skills to teach I was not a teacher by profession and I’m grateful to the mentors who assisted me and made it possible for me to teach within a short space of time. Now I am a proud teacher.
Arriving at the school, our group of teachers suddenly realised that TEACH gave us the foundation to deal with any situation. I am grateful for the “pre-trip” training and being taught the professionalism that helped us declare our territory and create a psychological distance between the learners and us.
It was my passion for progress and the knowledge that I was helping a disadvantaged child in Khayelitsha that helped me continue teaching. I became so attached to these learners and they to me.
In my second year I was privileged to teach matriculants. Excited about the challenge but still nervous about the outcome, I grabbed the bull by its horns. For the first time our school received an “A” grade in Mathematics.
As a TEACH ambassador, I gained life experience that could not have been taught to me. I learnt that enthusiasm and concentration are the key pillars of success in life, and that your productivity is not determined by the amount you are paid, but by how enthusiastic and passionate you are about your work.
I have been retained at the school, where I intend to stay for one more year before I venture into my field of study. I have realised that teaching is a noble profession, which requires patriotic educators who love what they do. As a teacher your great satisfaction comes from enriching someone’s life.
My Life After TEACH South Africa — Mothupi Kgopa
Kgopa was a 2010 TEACH SA ambassador, and is now a mathematics coach at Pearson
God created the love for people, and created mankind and asked Man to rule over the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. In deep thought, I suppose, he started to single out those who would carry out the biggest task of educating his people. He also knew they would need a different character and genetic makeup.
My journey as Teach Alumnus has just begun. I am as much a product of Teach South Africa as I am the product of Wits University. As a student I have cherished the idea of working as an investment banker, but when I finally got my foot in the door I felt empty – I didn’t last a month in banking.
Today, after two years at Teach South Africa, I now work at Pearson – the world’s leading education company. As a Pearson mathematics coach my job is to mentor and support 26 primary school educators in Mabopane and Winterveld. My responsibilities include classroom observation (giving feedback to educators on areas their class presentation needs improving), training educators (Caps training, mathematics and teaching workshops).
The main aim is to improve learner achievement in the eight schools I am assigned to as coach – having walked the TEACH South Africa streets, this was not foreign at all. My other personal role is conducting career talks and tours around South Africa from Durban to Giyani. We partner with companies who give us funding, and municipalities that provide support in allocating venues and sometimes funds for the projects in their area.
I was once asked what I thought were the greatest challenges in the South African education system. At a recent meeting of Barbara Creecy (Gauteng Education MEC) and Tshwane educators, after Creecy had addressed a fully packed Pretoria City Hall, and had given the educators the chance to ask questions, an educator said, “MEC please address the over crowdedness in our classrooms.
I find it very challenging to teach at a school with no resources. The learners don’t do their homework and there is very little parental involvement. We have very ill-disciplined learners. Please do something.”
I was sitting at the back of the hall replaying the events of my first month at TEACH South Africa. I remember being a new teacher full of hope, ambition and zest for life. I remembered how that “full of knowledge educator”, that “Mr Ready – to impart some light and change the future of dreaming young minds” – died slowly in the black hole of our rigid education system.
The system is like an old lion looking at a new lioness who refuses to wait by the river for food, and says to itself, “They are so naive, soon they will realise the easiest thing to do is to join me. Why run around and waste energy?” The young lion was shocked at the laziness of the old lions. “How lazy these lions must be,” said the young lion. ”Very odd and bizarre just to wait when things have gone haywire.”
The old lions are experienced and, quite truthfully, running around wastes energy. In our education system I have found that those who make an impact are those who challenge the status quo, and who say no to conventionally accepted ideas in order to become bigger than the rigid behaviour in the system. It all boils down to the story of character. The character of the educator is important because, amid all the challenges, dreaming educators must rise above the circumstances.
They must see the circumstances, and like young hungry lions look for creative and innovative solutions. They must also realise that there are two leagues in the education system: those who work and those who watch, those who solve problems and those who create them, those who hope to create the miracle education we yearn for, and those who are always in despair over our education system.
Someone once said two roads diverged in the yellow woods, and I chose the one less travelled. It is that shift in mindset that we desperately need in our education.
Tumelo Malekane: My journey
After resigning from my job as an analyst in January 2009, I could never have predicted the path my life would take and the role TEACH South Africa would play in that journey. Sitting at home at that time, I had no clue what I wanted to do in life. I was just glad I had removed myself from the rat race in order to collect my thoughts.
My first teaching experience was as a Grade 10 learner at my high school, St David’s. Being a so-called privileged school, St David’s hosted Grade 5 learners from Tembisa Primary School for English lessons once a week. This was called the SMILE programme, and I was actively involved in it for two years. During my matric year I remained on call if one of the facilitators couldn’t make it.
My next teaching experience was while I was at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) – I taught Maths and Natural Science at the Eikenhof informal settlement on Thursday mornings (my classes at Wits began only began after lunch). That lasted a year.
I then joined the edu-action group at Wits, through which we tutored matriculants from Morris Isaacson High School in Jabavu, Soweto.
These experiences revisited me in 2009 when I was deciding what to do with my life. As the idea of teaching grew on me, I spoke more and more about it. A friend I had spoken to mentioned my situation, in passing, to a friend of his, an accountant at Deloitte. I then got an unexpected call from this accountant, who told me about an initiative that Deloitte was involved in, called TEACH South Africa. I visited the TEACH South Africa website to find out more, and sent in an application form.
The application process went smoothly, and I was told about joining a LEAP school close to my area – which was the LEAP school in Alexandra. I went to see the school before starting my training, and remember feeling comfortable with the new turn my life was taking. TEACH South Africa contracts ambassadors for a period of two years, and I hadn’t thought beyond the two years.
During training, my Maths mentor introduced me to a theme that has stayed with me over my past two-and-a-half years as a teacher. Aarnhout Brombacher introduced us to the theme of logic vs magic. Most learners experience Maths as a magic course, where certain steps are taken and the correct result is arrived at. Our challenge as Maths teachers is to bring out the logic in each person.
Everyone in that cohort would remember Brombacher and the controversy caused by his assertion that daily routines like formal lesson planning (which we can do) are not nearly as important as knowing your content inside out in order to guide learners.
I really understood him, and feel honoured to have been introduced to that theme – which was to form the basis of my teaching – especially since it was his only year mentoring TEACH South Africa Ambassadors.
My first year as a TEACH Ambassador was made comfortable by the ongoing efforts of a Maths mentor, Lerato Mathenjwa, who was highly encouraging and shared her vast experience of teaching Maths. It was also a pleasure to meet and exchange views with fellow Ambassadors during holiday training workshops, which ensured our continuous development.
As someone who didn’t plot a career development framework in high school, and hence studied courses I would eventually not take any further, I am happy for a bridge like TEACH South Africa. I hope I can now represent them well as a former Ambassador. Bridging is a key area for all entities involved at all levels in the education sector, and TEACH South Africa has a pivotal role to play in this regard for the future of South Africa.
Following my TEACH South Africa experiences, I continue working as a teacher, and have committed to being a classroom teacher (regardless of what else I do outside the classroom, much of which will keep changing) for the rest of my life.
TEACH South Africa: Uplifting the needy communities through education — Honest Shuro
I contacted TEACH South Africa in 2009 after researching NGOs in the field of education, with a particular focus on maths, science and technology. I have never regretted my decision to become a TEACH Ambassador and every day I pray that nothing separates me from the organisation.
In an effort to bring out the best in me, TEACH took me through a six-week induction course, coupled with routine workshops that helped to ease my fears about becoming a teacher.
Working as a TEACH Ambassador allowed me to help learners access their potential and realise their dreams. The numerous opportunities at TEACH helped me become more determined to see true transformation in the education sector.
I have also learnt from the challenges encountered, and taken advantage of the opportunities. For example, in rural areas I don’t receive the daily comforts I was used to but this is compensated for by the inspiring way locals survive and overcome challenges.
Rural life is not all about problems, and where I worked the concept of ubuntu was very much alive and well.
For those who haven’t yet decided what career to pursue, my advice is to consider teaching, as it is the mother of all professions. One is bound to encounter unruly or disrespectful behaviour in some learners but this only tests the intelligence and resilience of an Ambassador.
Thanks to TEACH, I am up to the task most of the time. Long-term change in South Africa’s education sector will come as long as willing young graduates continue to realise there are learners out there who desperately need knowledge and skills.
The blame game: Educator or learner? Elizabeth Dliwayo
As a pioneer TEACH SA Ambassador, I highly appreciate the government’s efforts to ensure that education is a basic right for every South African child. As a bonus to receiving a proper education, from time to time food is distributed to schools so that learners do not have an empty stomach.
However, it is my conviction that the learners are not doing enough to complement the government efforts.
To begin with, I have observed that most learners are comfortable with a pass mark of 30% or 40%. In terms of standards this creates a huge gap between high school and university. Bridging this gap at university, where the minimum pass mark is 50%, becomes a nightmare to many students.
Another concern is the issue of rights. It is indeed good and fair that these learners have rights. Unfortunately most of them have decided to choose rights at the expense of the responsibilities that go with them. Among our learners, boys and girls alike, sex has acquired a status it doesn’t deserve at all. As a result, many girls fall pregnant in as early as Grade 8. Here in Limpopo falling pregnant appears to be fashionable. They then milk the government by claiming a child grant. How on Earth can someone concentrate on studies when the body wants to breast-feed? So common is this story of flying from childhood to parenthood.
It’s very rare to see learners studying on their own; they simply lack the self-drive towards education. Come exam time, the teacher has to repeatedly beg learners to study but all they do is ask for what is notorious as the “scope” – basically the content of the exam. Clearly there is no sense of ownership of learning.
Unfortunately it is always the educator who gets the blame when these learners fail. They say you can take a donkey to the river but you can’t force it to drink the water, and an educator can only do so much. Personally I believe about 75% effort is required from the learner, 20% from the educator and 5% from home. But learners seem to think that 75% should come from the educator, 20% from parents and merely 5% from them.
Yes, some educators don’t do enough but the blame put on them for the learners’ failure is too much. As educators it is our daily dream to have classes where learners are grounded and think less of their rights than responsibilities. It is every educator’s wish one day to proudly admire the products of their efforts when learners become successful in life. In contrast, often educators are left psychologically frustrated, physically drained and spiritually weak.
In my opinion the area of rights should be revisited; everyone has been disarmed because of these so-called rights. The educator as an authority needs a certain amount of power for authority to be effective. It’s better to be cruel to be kind for the sake of our learners’ future. Here I am not referring to barbaric strategies of having conformity through corporal punishment and the like, but rather a more structured and disciplined approach to learning, an approach with the support of the community and the government alike.
I strongly urge all stakeholders in education to put their heads together and let every child know that passing or failing ultimately rests in their hands. Educators provide the skeleton and learners put on the flesh. Adolescence is not a sickness; at some point every adult, educators included, has passed through it and has experienced more or less similar challenges. It can’t be used as a scapegoat. With the right attitude and focus every learner can succeed.
All they need is love: Grace Mavhiza
My time as a TEACH Ambassador was the best opportunity I have been given.
I enjoyed working with the children and hearing their stories, most of which were so sad. But I managed to create an environment that enabled them to open up.
I was very eager to understand their behaviour in relation to their academic performance, and I discovered something crucial, something that most educators often take for granted: the learners we deal with in South Africa are not accorded the kind of childhood experience children should get from their parents to enable the gradual and stable development in preparation for adulthood.
I realised that most children are subjected to harsh conditions that push them into “survival of the fittest” mode prematurely. Most learners have what psychologists call attention deficit disorder.
While analysing the behaviour of the children I mingled with on a daily basis, I noticed that they lacked love. This is the reason why most girls, on hearing a man say, “I love you,” quickly fall for it because it’s something they’ve not heard from anyone. On the contrary, a girl from an established family wouldn’t easily fall for such a cheap trick as she is used to hearing her parents declaring their unconditional love for one another.
This does not mean that boys are they exception – they are equally haunted by the absence of familial love. They tend to seek refuge in drugs, become gangsters and display other aggressive forms of behaviour at a tender age. It’s evident that boys, too, need adequate love from parents, and in the event that the parents have passed away, a close adult relative should try to fill in this gap.
As teachers we sometimes don’t understand this and end up writing these learners off. But I still believe something can be done to help these children. As teachers we should be able to assess every child’s behaviour and come up with a solution. It’s never too late for teachers to show love and compassion, and be an agent of change in these learners’ lives.
A moment that made an impact on me was when a couple of learners I taught in Grade 11 came to show me their results. I felt so honoured. Today, when I look back, I realise how important I was to these children. They all need a gentle smile, a pat at the back, a sympathetic ear and a vigilant eye.
My two-year experience as a TEACH Ambassador led to me staying in teaching, and I was fortunate enough to be retained by the same school – Tiisetsong in Katlehong’s Thokoza township. I believe that I must plough back into the society, and so should everyone.
I am confident that even though most of my learners are from child-headed families, I can positively influence them to look on the brighter side of life.
A glance over my shoulder: Benjamin Zvidzai
I was part of the privileged first group of Teach South Africa Ambassadors (2009). My deployment was in the East Rand, Ekurhuleni district at a school called Jongimfundo Primary in the sprawling township of Vosloorus. This was quite an explosive experience for me.
Armed to the teeth with the six weeks of rigorous training from Teach South Africa, I found myself in front of learners who had an insatiable thirst for learning that needed all I had to quench it.
It didn’t take me long to gel with members of staff and learners. This was the beginning of a two-year journey that was riddled with challenges, surprises, excitement, learning curves and bumpy rides that called for diligence, hard work, resilience and, above all, innovation.
I was teaching English (First Additional Language) to Grade 6 and 7. Despite the limited resources and cultural diversities, the teaching and learning process was a great pleasure. The principal, Mr Kenny Twala, had warm-heartedly welcomed us and had embraced the project with the great enthusiasm that he supported us with all the way through.
The Teach South Africa ongoing support staff also played a pivotal role in ensuring that we succeeded on this mission. The local community there was just wonderful. Their appreciation was, without doubt, very encouraging. Some parents would drop by the school just to meet their child’s English teacher. Whenever there were School Governing Body meetings, they would come, introduce themselves to us and thank us for the great work we were doing.
One parent’s comment will forever linger in my memories, “Sir, for the first time, my daughter is showing great interest in her school work. Last night she spent an hour at the mirror practising the speech you tasked her to prepare. “It then dawned on me that the impact we were making was more than the eye could see.”
Notwithstanding that we were sometimes inadvertently dragged into some politics whose origin we never knew, we soldiered on. That taught us always to be vigilant and sensitive to issues that, from a novice’s eye, would seem trivial. For instance, if you happened not to attend a certain teacher’s home function, working relationships could get strained.
But despite this, we had a very amicable working relationship with members of staff. They didn’t hide the fact that we brought with us a different and positive work culture that was inspiring. One lady publicly commented that the learners’ communication in English had greatly improved, courtesy of our sterling efforts.
On the co-curricular side, I spearheaded the debate and poetry club. I sourced a donation and managed to establish a table tennis club with the little cash I gathered. My English on Mobile project (the dispatch of homework through cellphone technology) was a great success. Unfortunately, the project was prematurely disrupted when the department terminated our contracts. I have developed it further and intend to spread it to all schools under Teach South Africa. At the end of my ambassadorial tenure I walked away with the best TEACH ambassador accolade and am very proud of this feat.
After my stint at Jongimfundo, the neighboring school, Katlehong Primary School, head-hunted my services and I am happy to be working with the young kids in the same township.
I never regret going the extra mile on this journey Teach South Africa paved for me. To the forthcoming ambassadors, brace yourselves for this challenging epic journey and go out there and make a difference to those young lives. It’s not a stroll in the park, but through hard work and a positive and constructive attitude, you all can make a difference and contribute towards the development of the South African child.
Gauteng versus Limpopo: A comparative story
2011 marks my third year as a TEACH Ambassador. After completing two years of teaching in Gauteng, I felt my mission to change the lives of underprivileged learners by assisting them achieve better results was not yet complete. Last year my matric students achieved a mark of 87% in maths literacy, a vast increase from 52% the previous year. And when an opportunity came up to execute my mission in rural Limpopo, I did not hesitate to take it, thereby fulfilling the TEACH South Africa vision.
There are many underprivileged learners in rural Limpopo. I currently teach at Nareng Secondary School in the Mopani District. But although it’s deep in a rural area, the teaching environment is more conducive to learning than what I experienced in Gauteng.
Discipline plays a major role in a learner’s performance. Learners at my current school are far more disciplined compared with the previous school I taught at. And I feel the environment plays a major role in this: learners come to school early, wear full school uniforms, do their work and submit all assignments in time.
A key factor in such a positive attitude towards learning is a good community that values education, which is what I have experienced in rural Limpopo. In Gauteng my learners were ill-disciplined. They arrived late, had a negative attitude towards school, and non-submission of work was the order of the day. This was probably due to inefficient school policies and the community not playing its pastoral role.
Further, criminal activities are also very low at rural schools. Teachers have the support of school management, local police and the community in making schools a safe learning environment. Since joining my current school, I have not come across an incident of learners bringing alcohol, drugs or dangerous weapons on to the school premises. In Gauteng, encountering pupils smelling of dagga or teaching drunken students was a daily occurence.
The government plays a major role in organising workshops to assist teachers in areas in which they face difficulties – this shows that the government is investing in education to make sure that learners receive world-class tuition. However, the funding of rural schools remains a major challenge. These schools are not given as much financial support as schools in urban areas. In Gauteng, proper structures are in place to make sure learners receive maximum support.
Last year I was involved in the Senior Secondary Intervention Programme run by the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, which offers extra tuition to matric learners and also provides resources such as study guides. I am positive this is the reason why matric results in Gauteng improved drastically in 2010. This kind of initiative is lacking in Limpopo. Although extra lessons are offered, they are not of the same quality as those offered by Sci-Bono and its tutors in Gauteng.
A lack of resources also hampers learners’ progress. Libraries are a scarce resource in rural areas. Learners are not exposed to the right environment and are not getting the correct books to use when studying on their own, especially during weekends and holidays. In towns you find that libraries are well resourced, and this is a major advantage to learners living there.
The teacher-to-learner ratio is another major challenge. You find in grades 8 and 9 there are about 90 pupils in a class, and to control such a large number of learners, whose hormones are flying in all directions, is a problem. There is a need for public-private partnerships to build more classes and to bring in more teachers so that the ratio is balanced. In Gauteng the same problem was prevalent, but not to the degree that it is in this region.
This is a major challenge in South African schools and an urgent remedy is needed.
With the above in mind, I can safely say the environment in rural areas is more conducive to teaching, and if the government and NGOs could channel more of their resources into rural education, underprivileged learners would benefit more, especially in terms of improved results.
l was a TEACH Ambassador for two years at Illinge High School in Vosloorus, Ekurhuleni South District. I was a member of the first TEACH group in 2009, and taught English as first additional language to grades 8, 9 and 11.
I won’t lie and say it was an easy ride. There were challenges but l had many amazing moments watching my learners improve. An unforgettable moment was when one of my Grade 8 learners brought me a small gift to thank me for being a wonderful teacher and role model. I was touched that some learners saw me as more than just a teacher, and as someone they could confide in and look up to. Having learners respect you is the greatest gift of all.
One thing I’m proud of is instilling positive thinking in my learners and showing them they had the potential to be anything. I also learnt to be tolerant, understanding and loving but firm, and always to treat my learners as individuals.
Currently, I’m a programme co-ordinator for Operation Hope, a global financial literacy NGO in Parktown, Johannesburg. The mission of Operation Hope is to teach financial literacy and all aspects of entrepreneurship to disadvantaged adults as well as children in grades 4 to 12.
Spending two years of my life teaching was an excellent career move but, more importantly, from a personal perspective there has been nothing more fulfilling than knowing I made an impact for the better on a child’s life.
Joining Teach South Africa as an Ambassador in 2009 was the greatest decision I made. Being an educator changed how I view things and how I relate to fellow human beings. The programme introduced me to a fulfilling world.
My time as an ambassador
I joined the Tiisetsong family in Thokoza in 2009 and it was a challenging but rewarding experience. The first time I walked into a Grade 11 classroom I was terrified because I felt I had very little to offer those children. Then I remembered what Nalini Reddy (TEACH South Africa trainer) said to us, “It is tough in the classroom but the passion you have for the profession will make a lot of difference.” This statement carried me through my time as an Ambassador.
• Starting a newsletter with fellow Ambassadors Elby and Grace, and seeing the growth in the reporters and the editor.
• Helping learner Sibusiso Khumalo move from an average of 28percent to 65percent in Grade 12 mathematics.
• Working with Zolile and Dimpho in the National Moot Court Competition hosted by the legal department of the University of Pretoria. They came third in the country.
These are just a few examples of what kept me going as an Ambassador and encouraged me to stay on as an educator.
I am currently studying a PGCE with UNISA and teach mathematics and technology at Kanana Secondary School in Orkney (North West Province). I am a substitute teacher with the possibility of being absorbed on a full-time basis next year.
Our school has just received 20 computers and the principal appointed me computer centre manager. The principal is contemplating introducing C.A.T. and I will go for training and offer it at our school. I am offering extra maths classes in my community, and love what I do.
I owe my existence in teaching to TEACH South Africa. I support the cause 100 percent and will always be available to offer my services anywhere, should they be needed, to promote TEACH South Africa.
After working in the field of programing and training clients to use my software, I discovered that teaching was something I enjoyed more than programing. After a friend told me about TEACH South Africa I went ahead and applied.
Experience to date
I still remember my first day at school very vividly. Neither the learners nor the educator was quite sure of what to expect. That has changed and I now know it is very important to expect great things of your students. If you don’t, they will not deliver great things.
Last year I taught a Grade 11 maths class and it was as hard for them as it was for me, as the material was not the easiest to explain. On the last day of school a student acknowledged my hard work. That was one of the best days of my short career.
In what way if any has TEACH South Africa helped you to be a better teacher?
Through the support of IMSTUS (funded by TEACH South Africa) I received and still get great help when teaching. The ideas and resources they suggest for the classroom are always spot on and really help. For example, at school next week I will use an idea I learnt at a workshop a few weeks ago. This type of hands-on training has given me much self-confidence and has also improved my teaching.
Getting involved in changing lives
Getting involved in teaching learners also means helping colleagues to improve their teaching methods. To do that communication has to be improved. That is why I created mailing lists for different subjects, eg email@example.com - this will send an email to all science teachers at LEAP Science and Math School.
I also created a document repository for old papers and worksheets, enabling educators to share resources and documents easily.
Supporting students in their day-to-day challenges is also part of teaching. I think the most important fact here is to listen. If students have anything to say they often just need someone to hear them. I also support students in a program set up by the air force, in which they are exposed to simulations, flying, and everything the profession entails. This activity combines the science and maths of school and is very much enjoyed.
Life post TEACH South Africa
After my two years in teaching I will stay in the profession. I could not imagine a job being such a fundamental part of my life that it has become a calling. I look forward to qualifying as a teacher when I receive my PGCE this year.