The foundation of education

melissa1Melissa van Rensburg, Grade 1 - 3 Literacy, Numeracy and Life Orientation, Eastville Primary School. Part of Literacy Project.

Discovering the teacher inside

When I matriculated I wanted to be a social worker, but I felt that I needed a background in working with children so I volunteered at a local Early Childhood Development Centre that my aunt ran. I enjoyed working with children and did Level Fundamentals for Early Child Development and became a Grade R teacher. My lecturer told me that she could see a teacher in me, so I decided to further my studies. I got a bursary and the rest is history.

I completed my Bachelor of Education degree in 2012. I plan to do my Honours and Masters in Education, and then I hope to open an Educare Centre one day. I love being in the classroom, and I would like to stay in the classroom as I work my way up in the profession to become a Head of Department, for instance. However, I’m not obsessed with moving up the ranks. I mainly want to mentor my peers and build an environment where children enjoy learning.

Building from the bottom up

Foundation Phase teachers play the most important role in a child’s education. To take a child from not being able to read and write to actually doing these things is a huge task. It is important that we take this responsibility seriously because if you mess up in the Foundation Phase, you mess up a child’s future.

My favourite teacher was my Grade R and Grade 1 teacher in Elsies River, Ms Napoleon. She was so kind – I used to stay for aftercare as my mom worked until 5pm. I really enjoyed being with her. I look back at that experience and constantly ask myself what kind of teacher I am and what kind of impression I am making on my learners. Showing them love and care at this stage of their life is just as important as teaching them.

This is my second year with the Literacy Project. Being a part of the project has improved my confidence and has helped me grow as a teacher. I find that teaching language is a lot simpler now, whereas initially I had difficulty teaching in an environment where learners speak different languages.

I love the group sessions where teachers work together to solve problems. This is how we are meant to work. The project has helped everybody open up and now we share freely amongst all teachers.

And this is important because of the challenges we face at the school. I have been teaching here for four years, and over this time we have had many burglaries. It’s not just crime; one day the class was flooded and my resources were damaged. Other times we do not have electricity or our resources are stolen. We just have to live through all these challenges, and anything that supports us in our efforts is welcome.

What compounds the challenge we face, however, is the fact that parents are not involved in the education of their children. As a teacher, I also have to play the role of a parent. The social problems run deep – learners come from single-parent families, they are exposed to violence and some of them are born of mothers who are still children themselves.

“The project has shown how I can do things practically, whereas my studies were heavy on theory.”

Education and then some…

I have had to take on the problems of the children. There is one learner who was always fighting others and disrupting the class. I would go home every day and think about what I could do with the learner to help him overcome his difficulties. I registered him for a workshop to assist with his behavioural problems. The educator becomes the child’s de facto parent at the end of the day. We have to know our learners before we can start teaching them; we have to sort out the social problems they bring to class.

In order to be able to carry out this task as well as the mandate of educating the children, the safety of educators should be paramount and the school building has to be secured. Eastville is one of the suburbs most affected by crime in the Western Cape. Most of our funding goes to repairing damages.

Then, the children’s guardians need to play their part. Everyone needs to understand that a child’s parent truly is the child’ first teacher. A love for reading and other subjects has to be cultivated at home. There must be a connection between home and class.

About the project

The Zenex Foundation Literacy Project is an innovative teacher development intervention to assist teachers in the Foundation Phase with Home Language and First Additional Language literacy teaching, aligned with the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements. The project seeks to understand the conditions and factors that are required for teachers to provide Foundation Phase learners with a (sound) foundation in home language and English literacy competency.