teaching

The Wonder of Teaching

Posted on May 15, 2012. Filed under: rickywoods, teaching | Tags: , |

It’s been a year since I last posted something. Life has a way of sideswiping the best-laid plans. But now I’m back – and determined to write again. The post that follows is not a new piece of writing, but in days when I feel disheartened, I look at it and it gives me purpose again.

High school in South Africa spans a period of five years. I spent the first three of these at a boarding school. “Why? “ I hear you ask.

I read too many stories about British schooldays when I was a youngster, so I believed it would be one long midnight feast and adventure.  Reality was a far cry from that,so my final two years saw me back in day school.

The problem was that my old friends had moved on with their lives and there was no room for me.   I did what misfit teenagers the world over have done – I acted out to draw attention to myself and soon found myself in a great deal of trouble.

My parents could not cope. What had happened to their well-behaved child? Everyone thought I was heading for a fall. Everyone that is, except for my English teacher.

She was a diminutive woman with the spirit of a Jedi warrior. Her passion for English was where we connected and her classes were a light in the gloom of those days. Through her care and wisdom I realised I could achieve anything. Through her encouragement I eventually became an English teacher.

If truth be told, teaching in South Africa has become beleaguered and embattled over the past fifteen years. Schools try to muddle along without the requisite number of teachers and many schools have no principal. Where funding exists, parent bodies appoint teachers, but otherwise inadequate teaching occurs by sometimes untrained teachers.

A year ago scores of teachers took to the streets to strike in an attempt to persuade the government to look at adequate working conditions and benefits for its members. Recently, temporary teachers appointed with a promise of permanent appointments in the near future have summarily been dismissed, leaving pupils stranded and teachers looking for work.

So, why do we still teach?  Why did we become teachers?

In my case it was a special teacher who saw my potential.  It need not have been a real teacher, but could have been a Mr Chips. Or Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society encouraging you to Carpe Diem – Seize the day.

 A dear friend gave me a poster which now has pride of place in my classroom. It reads: “The Wonder of Teaching is watching Caterpillars turn into Butterflies” – that sums it up for me.

When I think of what it is that keeps me going back, year after year, these are some of my reasons:

  • It’s bumping into a past pupil, who says, “ You encouraged me to keep writing, and I have  just published my first collection of poetry.”
  • It’s watching the lights go on in the eyes of a Senior class when they eventually get Lady Macbeth
  • It’s when one of my pupils struggles against and overcomes her impoverished, single-parent background, so that she can carry on fighting for her people

When I became a teacher I knew I would not be earning a king’s ransom. I knew the hours would be long; that it would be stressful and often thankless.

But, I also knew that I could make a difference; that this was not just a job, but a vocation, a calling.

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Don’t Treat Me Like a Mushroom!

Posted on May 30, 2011. Filed under: rickywoods, teaching | Tags: , , , |

If you always feed me garbage and keep me in the dark, I begin to feel like a mushroom.

Welcome to the world of being an employee of the state.  I am a well-qualified, professional person who, in the corporate world would be accorded the respect (and the salary) I deserve. I have a number of post-graduate qualifications and more than 25 years’ experience in my field. I also run the largest department at my place of employment, with acknowledged success, I might add.

Why is it then that the people who hold the purse strings never manage to get things right? I would like to cite some examples by way of explanation:

  • Three years ago I was officially promoted into a post I had filled (unofficially) for the previous two years. This meant a nominal increase, for which I was most grateful. Six months later all educators (oh, I forgot to tell you that I am a teacher) were awarded something called an Occupation Specific Dispensation increase  –  related specifically to being educators. Things were looking up!
  • Three months later I was informed that as I had only been in that promotion post for six months, I did not qualify for the increase, so they were going to be deducting the amount that I had been given, in monthly increments over the next two years.
  • Then in September last year educators all over South Africa went out on strike for better wages, housing and medical benefits. The union to which I belong called for a show of solidarity, so I struck (if that is the right word) for one day, knowing that I would not be paid.
  • In February this year we were told that, owing to an administrative issue they were not able to distinguish between those who had struck for one day, or those who had downed tools ( or is that chalk?) for longer. Thus, they would deduct four days’ pay from us all and at some stage ( not specified) in the future they would refund us what was owed.
  • Add to this the fact that any salary advice reconciliation is only ever received three or four months after the relevant pay date and you have a recipe for disaster.
  • Where in the corporate world does it happen that someone is given something and then has it taken away?  Who would tolerate not knowing from month to month what they will earn – or having any way to find out?

I love my job. I love being in the classroom with teenagers who are alive and fresh and new every day. I love the fact that they teach me – often far more than I will ever teach them.  I love the fact that relating to them on a daily basis keeps my mind open to the changes that are inevitable in life.

But who ever said that in order to be a teacher, you have to be treated like a mushroom?

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