Great teachers from the ‘wonder years’

2013-10-07 00:00

A WEEK ago, I wrote a hard-hitting article lamenting the state of education in South Africa. Today, however, to commemorate World Teachers’ Day, which was on Saturday, I want to honour one of those great teachers in the system who would probably go by unnoticed were it not for this article.

My daughter is in Grade 6 at Howick Prep. In the early years, she was given a hard time by other pupils because she was somewhat overweight.

In Grade 5, however, in stepped Gerrit Coetzee. A giant of a man in my book. Maybe it was because he suffered the same fate all his life, Mr Coet­zee took my daughter under his protective wing. Today my daughter is a different person, thanks to Mr Coetzee (and Mrs Stander). Most of the children in her class will today stand up and protect her if others tease her. That kind of change comes from a teacher who has taught children that this form of bullying is unacceptable.

But that is not the main reason that makes Mr Coet­zee a great teacher in my book. The brilliance of Mr Coetzee is to be heard in the story of Windownia. On a daily basis my daughter comes home with stories about Mr Coet­zee’s wonderful sense of humour. And stories from the Land of Windownia that never fail to put a smile on my face.

“Ah Jocelyn,” says Mr Coetzee, “I see you’re staring at that tree again. What’s the name of that city? Windownia? I see you’re the first to have discovered the wonderful world of Windownia. Weather looks great there today, hey?” (Windownia is the imaginary world Mr Coetzee has created whenever children daydream in class and look at the beautiful tree outside their window.)

“Hey Brucie, I promise you. If you go and sit in that tree, Jocelyn will be staring at you the whole day. She won’t be able to take her eyes off you.”

On another day, in a high-pitched playful voice that my daughter can imitate so well: “Ah Jared, I see you discovered Windownia. Was it nice there? Did you also see the elves and fairies running around? Cute hey.”

While the rest of the class are bent over with laughter, poor Jared’s cheeks turn a brighter shade of pink.

On another occasion, in the midst of a lesson, he spotted young Silindile daydreaming: “Oh Sli, did you meet Jared and Jocelyn up there? Did they welcome you? Did they have a little parade, walking hand in hand, welcoming their newest citizen. Did the little fairies change their bow ties especially for you? Did they have their shiny disco pants on?”

Some teachers will rant and rave in such situations. Others, like Mr Coet­zee, have that something special, that X factor that no faculty of education can teach. They are born to be teachers. When their former pupils look back on these days 30 years from now, they will realise that those were the wonder years. Because of wonderful teachers like Gerrit Coetzee.

• Darryl Earl David is an Afrikaans professor at UKZN and organiser of numerous literary festivals.

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