A Calling to Read

Cebisa Ndlazi, English teacher, Nompendulo High School, Zwelitsha, Eastern Cape. Cebisa was part of the ISEA Project.

Teaching is a calling; it’s about the love of the profession. I started in 1985 and have been an English teacher at Nompendulo High School ever since. The number of learners at Nompendulo High has been going down over the years. We used to have over 1000 learners and 35 teachers. Now we only have 123 learners from Grade 8 to 12, and 13 teachers, including the principal.

Learners prefer schools in town and Nompendulo has been particularly affected by this.

I have been able to stay this long in teaching and have a passion for my work because it is a calling, but I will be retiring in a few years’ time, and plan to start a reading club as I will have a lot of spare time!

When I passed matric I wanted to be a fashion designer, but my parents could not afford the fees. I got a bursary to join a teachers’ college and so went the teaching route. I developed a deep love for teaching after I qualified as a teacher. I obtained a Secondary Teacher Diploma from a teachers’ college and went on to do a BA with Unisa. Through the Zenex Foundation Project, I was able to obtain a B Ed in English in 2011.

The ABCs of passion

We tend to think that learners do not like to read. I brought a few books from home and put them on the tables and invited learners to read. They sat on the floor and read the books. I would leave them for a while and come back to find them still engrossed in the books!

All we need to do as teachers is to model reading – if you show a love for reading, your learners will mimic you. They even came back and asked when they would have another opportunity to read, because our curriculum does not allow for sufficient reading to happen. The time and resources allocated to reading are insufficient.

If we get reading right, we will start seeing good results overall in education. It does not matter whether children read in English or in their mother tongue, reading broadly is essential for improving education outcomes.

I do not have sufficient books to sustain their reading. We also cannot give learners of different grades and skill levels the same books to read. At some point, you must have grade appropriate and contextually relevant books.

"If you show a love for reading, your learners
will mimic you".

Digital wave

Currently, the department of education is recruiting learners to do the ACT programme, which takes teachers through a technology system which allows a teacher to teach from a central point. The lesson will be screened in more than one school at the same time and the teacher can engage with the learners in real time.

However, I believe nothing can beat personal contact and using books, instead of tablets. Because of technology, I find spelling mistakes are carried over from the devices to writing in class. We need to find ways of integrating technology with the old ways of teaching.

Kids of today

Learner discipline has worsened over the years. It’s not about the numbers, but about the youth of today. You have to chase them to do work. For instance, after writing prelims this year, I immediately gave learners tasks to complete – in the exam room. I knew that I would never be able to get all of them again, once they left the exam room.

As a teacher, you have to be firm with learners. The learners assess the teachers and establish that they can get away with a lot of things with certain teachers and not with others. A teacher has to be many things to different learners. Some learners come from extremely poor backgrounds, and as a teacher I chip in here and there.

"If we get reading right, we will start seeing good results overall in education".

I used to be the event manager at the school and I regularly had to deal with issue of a lack of finances, especially in the build up to matric dances. I would borrow, hire, and plead for help from anyone who could assist. I even borrowed some dresses from my own daughters.

Some learners confide in you about their personal lives; you become their counsellor. My faith carries me through it all. These learners see us as role models and as such you have to do justice to your profession and give your best.

Read, South Africa

I am sacrificing my September holidays to prepare to take learners to the Funda Mzantsi Championship. I have a book club with Grade 9 – 11 learners, and we plan to be at the championship from the 3rd to 6th October. We are going to George to compete in a reading and book review competition. We started attending last year and I want to make this an annual thing for the school. The championship will be screened on Morning Live on Monday, 3 October.

Teachers are never recognised for the good they do. We are forever criticised when things go badly in schools. It’s not that we want recognition, but when we do get recognised, it is a positive affirmation that we are making a difference under very difficult circumstances.