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Our teachers are dealing with great adversity. How we can support them

2018-10-05 09:31
Anelisa Dyonase traded his dream of working in the financial sector for teaching. He is a maths teacher in the Northern Cape and an ambassador of TEACH South Africa. Picture: Supplied

Anelisa Dyonase traded his dream of working in the financial sector for teaching. He is a maths teacher in the Northern Cape and an ambassador of TEACH South Africa. Picture: Supplied

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Lorna Dreyer and Lynne Damons

On 5 October every year people across the globe celebrate World Teachers' Day to raise awareness, understanding and appreciation for the contribution teachers make to education and development. 

This year we also commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). With the signing of this declaration, South Africa and other countries confirmed that education is a key fundamental human right. With this said, one can assume that education has the potential to transform lives and that teachers can make a positive impact on the lives of learners.

This year's theme, "The right to education means the right to a qualified teacher", reminds the global community that the right to education cannot be achieved without the right to have trained and qualified teachers. It is recognised that strides have been made in the training of teachers in South Africa. Much of this is seen in the re-curriculation of teacher education programmes across the country to align with the new minimum standards for teacher education.
However, it is with utter ambivalence that we write this article. On the eve of celebrating World Teachers' Day news breaks that a young South African teacher lost his life (stabbed to death) at the hand of a learner. Whilst acknowledging the importance of the UNESCO theme for this year, creating safe spaces for teachers to facilitate quality education for all is still very challenging in many countries. 

Here comes to thought war-stricken countries, like Syria and others, where educating a girl poses serious life risks of which the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, is testament to. In our own country, recent media reports of violent, sometimes fatal, attacks on teachers by learners have brought into the public domain the adverse conditions that teachers are confronted by on a daily basis in schools. 

These adversities vary from learners who are ill-disciplined, sometimes to the point of physically attacking teachers, to learners bringing their gangster friends into schools to "deal" with teachers and the list goes on. 

A newly qualified, more techno savvy cohort of educators are taking to social media to bring to light their experiences as teachers. One of the dominant themes of some of these recent postings draws attention to teachers' concerns about their personal and professional vulnerability in schools. 

On the flip side, learners often express their frustration at teachers not listening or recognising their voices. Teachers are trained to be responsive to diversity, different teaching and learning styles and multiple intelligences in order to create democratic classroom spaces in which they can develop critical citizens and promote social justice. However, while they are trained for this, they seem to revert to a survivalist approach as they become enmeshed in the school culture. They then may become rigid and inflexible in their actions in class and may regress to expect the authoritative discipline they have experienced whilst being learners themselves. 

They don't shift despite being exposed to alternative classroom management strategies during their training and initial orientation into the profession.  

We can sit around and engage in rhetorical debates over this or we can use this as a lever for reflexive praxis in teacher training. From these accounts it would seem that there is a growing perception that while universities teach students about the theories and practices of inclusive education, respect for difference, etc., they are apparently failing to prepare student teachers for the real world of teaching in South African schools today. 

We are therefore of the view that teacher education should include skills to equip teachers to be able to navigate the dynamic and ever-changing landscape of the school. Teacher training should help in developing resilience in face of adversity in order for them to also navigate school culture amidst challenging socio-economic conditions. 

However, if it is true that it takes a village to raise (educate) a child, it becomes everybody's responsibility to create safe spaces for this to be accomplished. It becomes an inter-sectorial and inter-departmental collaborative responsibility to ensure that teachers can fulfil their mandate to provide quality education for all and to develop responsible critical citizens in safe schools. 

Too many people have sacrificed their own safety for this (not so new anymore) democratic country. It is thus imperative that the Department of Higher Education and Training, SAPS and civil society join hands in supporting teachers to create enabling safe spaces for the provision of quality education and social justice for all. 

In spite of all the challenges teachers experience, many continue to embrace their role to provide quality education and support for all. They prepare the youth for responsible citizenship within a constitutional democracy. They help these learners to develop their own critical voice. 

These teachers must be acknowledged and commended for doing so in the face of adversity. These are the teachers who are not only experts in their subjects but are sources of wisdom. They greatly impact on learners' broader development and growth. They are the motivators and sources of inspiration to the next generation. 

We salute them for their efforts and enthusiasm amidst adversity. 

- Dr Lorna Dreyer and Dr Lynne Damons are academics in the Department of Educational Psychology at Stellenbosch University.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    schools  |  teachers  |  teaching


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