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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To Whine or Not To Whine

Posted on June 21, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

I did not submit a blog last week, despite my undertaking to write one every week as part of my discipline of writing.

Why? I was just so depressed. Once again my beloved profession has had to suck it up at the hands of an education department that mostly doesn’t know its nether regions from its elbow.

Ever since we became a democracy (?) the powers that be have been doing a duck and dive with regard to their demands and expectations of the
teaching profession. I can understand their wanting to move away from a system that perpetuated the wrongs of the past regime, but surely one does one’s homework before throwing it all out?

Instead, since then we have been revising the revisions of the revised OBE system. Every two or three years, amendments are made; an enormous
amount of money is spent; teachers are ‘trained’ by trainers who read long documents badly. Then things carry on for a while and before you know it, the process starts again.

The latest in a string of these is something called CAPS (Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement) – methinks the word Research should have been added after Curriculum 🙂  Once again a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing and very little transparency has educators now facing another spate of ‘training’. One week ago we were told it was going to happen now – in our July Holidays!  Fortunately, our unions were awake and reminded them that we need a term’s notice before they take our holidays away. So, guess what we have to look forward to in September?

Needless to say, we were not a happy bunch of campers.

Until tonight, that is.

I have the privilege of teaching at an amazing school where, although sport is worshipped (we are South African, after all) matters cultural really have an important place both in and out of our curriculum. We are regularly treated to the talents of our various school bands, one of which has won acclaim nationwide in band competitions. Two years ago we produced the South African première schools’ version of the musical of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, playing nightly to full houses.

But tonight I was invited to an open rehearsal of the choir and our fledgling strings ensemble. It is cold, pretty much the middle of winter, but I needed to show my support so off I went. I was entranced. The strings opened with a beautiful rendition of Hornpipe by Handel, followed by a choral piece of Elgar’s. Then some angel voices captivated us with a range of numbers from Domine Deus by Regnart  to A Boy and a Girl by Whitacre. The concluding number was a combination of strings, choir and an additional bass guitar section in a compelling interpretation of Iris by Goo Goo dolls ( from the sound track of the movie City of Angels)

It was only an hour’s performance, but I left there totally transformed. My previously disheartened outlook had lifted and I began to remember why it is that I teach. I have a poster in my classroom that reads, “The Wonder of Teaching is Watching Caterpillars Turn into Butterflies”.

Tonight I saw Butterflies

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