Chronicles of Young South African Teachers (The Interview Series)

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It is a no brainer that any country’s socio-economic stability rests heavily on its standard of basic education. On top of that, a country can hardly make any noteworthy strides if it neglects its youth. Ntate Oliver Tambo captured this well when he noted: ‘a country, a movement and a person that does not value its youth and children does not value its future’. Tambo’s wisdom begs the question: Is enough being done to attract young teachers to the teaching profession? Once they are attracted, is enough being done to retain them?  In an effort to answer these troubling questions, I have initiated the interview series called ‘Chronicles of Young South African Teachers’. This is an attempt to better understand young teachers’ experiences and their responses to the challenges that they face.

The first interviewee is Mr. Mbuyiselo Mcendane, who teaches in one of the schools in the Free State province. I hope you enjoy and will engage with his answers.

  1. Please tell us about your school…

The school that I teach at is situated in a small town, in Free State. It has about 1400 learners (Foundation and Intermediate Phase). It consists of about 37 educators and it caters for learners in the location and the surrounding farms.

  1. How long have you been teaching there?

I have been teaching at this school for a year and a month now.

  1. What are some of the things you have achieved since coming to this school?

This year, a few months ago, one of the Grade 6 learners I helped with her poetry writing competed in the poetry competitions at a provincial level and this made us proud as a school.

  1. What are some of the challenges you have had to face at the school?

Discipline is a huge challenge at our school; our learners lack discipline for us their teachers, some for their parents, and more especially amongst themselves. There was a case whereby a group of learners in my class were busy writing in a book about their ‘relationship’ matters during my lesson. These learners used this book as their ‘WhatsApp’ to chat whilst in class. Thereafter, they would circulate it amongst themselves. I confiscated the book and reported the matter to my superiors. We called their parents; one of the learners’ parent (mother) told us that she really battles to discipline her daughter and that when she tries to hit her, the daughter fights back.

We have a lot of misguided learners who are in these gangster groups and they tend to steal other learners` belongings and they often bully the younger ones.

  1. How many learners are in your class? Does this have any impact on the academic performance of your learners?

I teach four Grade 7 classes and one Grade 5 class; there are fifty (50) learners in each class, respectively. Yes, this has a huge impact on the academic performance of our learners. Due to a large number of learners in a class, it tends to be difficult to address each and every learner’s need because its time consuming—you do not reach all of them at once.

In most cases when you try to explain a certain concept to learner A, learner B,C and D tend to be disruptive and unruly; so you focus on disciplining them, you waste more precious time on them whereas you could have dealt with learner A’s needs. Overcrowding in classes is a serious problem in our schools.

  1. What is the level of parental and community’s involvement in their children’s education?

To be honest, some parents are actively involved in their children’s education. Here at our school, we normally have parents’ intervention meetings where we discuss the leaners` behaviour both at home and at school. These interactions often help us to understand the learners better. However, most parents of the troublesome learners do not attend such meetings.

  1. What do you love about your job?

Right now, it is too early for me to exactly pin-point what I love about my job because I majored in F.E.T Phase and now I am currently teaching in a Senior Phase (primary school). This in itself is a huge challenge for one, because the process of adapting into a different phase takes a lot of time. The teaching methods may be the same but the approach is totally different. Please do not mistaken my passion for teaching and my predicament. I love teaching but where I am right now, I am not intellectually simulated. I am a person who thrives on challenges, because that maximizes my potential and it keeps me on my toes.

  1. If you were to sit next to the Minister of Basic Education at the dinner table, what would you say to her about our basic education?

I would tell her that our education system is flawed, and it is failing both us the teachers and the learners. Look, how can you say to a child he/she can pass with a mere 30% or 40% and yet expect that child to go to a higher education institution where a minimum pass rate is 50%? It does not make sense, and this is one of the many reasons why we get so many drop-outs.

Our education system is quantity orientated not quality orientated. What I mean is this, the Minister only focuses on the matric results as if they are a measuring tool of quality education. Every year, she announces the matric pass rate (whether high or low) and this to her is a sole identifier of a quality education (if the results are high). She is not so much concerned about what happens in the lower grades.

Another issue that buttresses the latter is the progression policy. This policy means that a learner can only fail once per phase. If a learner has failed Grade 1, they will have to repeat it again the following year, and if they fail they will have to be progressed to the next grade. Now you can understand that if this is done from the Foundation Phase and progresses to higher grades, this means that that child lacks the necessary subject-content of each grade that he/she was previously in.

The Minister says that no child should fail (of which we all aim and strive for); however, provisions are not made for a learner that has failed. All that a learner has to do is to come to school every day and just sit there, whether he or she performs in the class, does not really matter because at the end of the year, it’s a guaranteed pass.

9. How do you deal with ill-disciplined learners?

Depending on the seriousness of the deed/act, we normally punish them by giving them chores around the school yard. We would give them brooms or gardening tools and detain them for about an hour or an hour and half after school. If the matter needs parental involvement, we would send the learner back home to come with his/her parent. We also use the SA-SAMS to keep a record.

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