Teaching in South Africa

Tiisetso Rabolao, Grade 8 Mathematics teacher, Grade 9 Natural Science teacher, Moditela Middle School, Hammanskraal. TEACH South Africa Ambassador.

To teach or not to teach?

I have a BSc in Geology, which I obtained in 2013. I initially did not want to be a teacher, which is why I did not do a Bachelor’s degree in Education. However, I tutored students throughout university and I started to enjoy teaching. That’s why I applied to be part of the TEACH South Africa programme, and was selected in 2014.

I underwent training for two weeks at the end of 2014 and started teaching in 2015. I enjoy working with young people; to educate them is not just about academics. It is also about life in general and what they should expect from life after school.

Teaching has been very challenging. No one and nothing can prepare you for the challenges you will face in class, especially with the learners’ performance in mathematics and their perceptions of the subject. Problems with mathematics start right at the beginning with perceptions of the subject being difficult and for “intelligent learners only”. As a result, most learners have not understood the basics of the subject at all: some cannot add, multiply or divide without a calculator in Grade 8.

Some learners pretend to understand when you teach. It is only when you mark that you realise the extent of the problem. Then you realise you have to start with the basics before you can even think about starting with the curriculum.

I struggled in my first year of teaching in 2015 and decided this year that I would dedicate the beginning of the academic year to doing the basics. It was lot easier when they got some of the basics right and learners have been performing a lot better this year.

Becoming an Ambassador

Over and above the two-week training before we start in schools, TEACH South Africa provides ongoing support in the form of classroom visits and coaching, and materials and tools to enhance learning and make teaching easier.

We have to register for the Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) as part of the programme. I began my PGCE studies half way into my second year of teaching and it’s a two-year course. I will be completing it in June 2017. It delves deeper into teaching methodology, covering aspects such as the curriculum and how to prepare lesson plans. However, it is up to you to adapt and implement in the real world because when you are in the classroom, you learn that realities are sometimes different from theory.

“I realised that if the teacher shows that they care about the development of the child, the child will push harder to live up to the teachers’ expectations.”

Real-life impact of teachers

Learners grow attached to teachers. They come to me even when I do not teach them. Some even come to me with their personal problems, so even if you do not teach them, you can still have an impact on their lives.

So many parents do not have any interest in their children’s education. When I call them to discuss their children’s progress, I often get a sense that they are not interested. But even if parents do not care, I strive to have a positive impact on the learners. I have realised that if the teacher shows that they care about the development of the child, the child will push harder to live up to the teachers’ expectations.

It is difficult motivating learners in tough times, where learners can look at their peers who may have completed matric but are jobless. I tell my learners that they must always have a qualification on the ready. I tell my learners that when economic conditions turn, they will have to be ready to grab the opportunities that arise. I also tell them that education is the key to changing their current circumstances, and as such they should never give up on getting a good education and post-school qualifications.

My science teacher in high school was my favourite teacher. She was strict and never had favourites. She treated us as equals, irrespective of our race and our abilities. I went to a mixed race school and was an average learner scoring 50 – 60% in most of my subjects. But she motivated me and always explained that no one is stupid and that if I just added more time and effort into my studies, I could achieve 70% or 80%. As a result, I improved with every grade and did a lot better than many other learners in matric. I realised then what motivating and believing in learners can do for them, and as such, I adopt the same approach with my learners.

Digital wave

I believe old teaching methods work better – you know, the chalk board and red pen! I want to sit down with a learner and explain things, rather than referring them to an electronic device. That way I can suss out whether they understand and need more help or not. Now we have to use technology - our school is one of the schools that received tablets from the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE).

Look, the tablets are helpful in terms of demonstrating experiments which we cannot do in class because we do not have the apparatus necessary to do practical experiments. They see these experiments on the tablets and then relate better when you teach.

A good thing about the GDE tablets is that they only have the programmes needed for the subjects we teach, so learners will not be distracted by other information on the device. For instance, they cannot access the internet and cannot play games. So it helps in holding the attention of up to 50 learners in a class.

“Being in the classroom for the past year and half has opened my eyes to the realities of teaching in South Africa.”

Back to the future

Our school has been adopted by UNISA and we have been working closely with BEd students from UNISA over the past two years. We have attended seminars for mathematics  teachers and we are encouraged to study and not to stagnate as teachers.

I plan to complete the PGCE then go on to do Honours and Masters in mathematics education. I plan to be either an academic, lecturing in university, or to be involved in curriculum development. I am passionate about changing the curriculum as I realise that certain things were developed with good intentions but they do not work in class.

Delivering under pressure

Older teachers have been frustrated by continuous changes in the system. They have had to constantly grow themselves academically and technologically and are struggling to keep up with the pressure. We have lots of teachers resigning or going to teach at primary school level.

It is because of the pressure for results. If learners fail, the officials and the public are of the view that you have failed as a teacher. In general, few people stand up for teachers as everything is about the learners and their results. Teachers can become demotivated and we have to realise that only motivated teachers can motivate learners.

Being in the classroom for the past year and half has opened my eyes to the realities of teaching in South Africa. Teaching can be frustrating and emotionally draining. The inequalities are huge – which I see now, having been educated at a better-resourced school. But the rewards are fulfilling. In the end, I want my legacy to be that I developed well-rounded learners with a good education, knowledge and skills.

About the project

TEACH South Africa recruits (non-teaching) graduates and non-graduates with 2nd year level in Mathematics, Science and English to join the teaching profession. The recruits are called TEACH SA Ambassadors. The programme assists the Ambassadors to acquire a one-year Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) through UNISA and provides ongoing support in the form of classroom visits, resources and leadership skills. TEACH South Africa has two main aims: 1) to attract and support South Africa’s most talented graduates in Mathematics, Science and English learning areas to teach and lead in challenging education environments (schools) for at least two years; 2) to improve learner performance in Mathematics, Science and English.