Changing perceptions

belindaBelinda Ncube - Grade 8 Mathematics teacher, Grade 11 & 12 Physical Science teacher, Mapetla High School, Soweto. Part of TEACH South Africa Project.

Answering the call

Teaching chose me. It is a calling. I had always considered teaching, but when the time came to study I chose to do a BSc in Environmental Science, which I completed in 2014. As I was approaching the end of my studies, I started looking around at various options for 2015 and I found the TEACH SA project. The project allows me an opportunity to experience teaching for two years with various options and support mechanisms included.

I decided then that I would take up the opportunity to give back to the community. I started teaching in the middle of 2015. You cannot go into teaching for money - you must have passion and a desire to uplift learners.

After a year in teaching it has been challenging, but also fulfilling. I have received positive feedback from learners about how I have changed their perceptions of Mathematics and Physical Science.

It is important to me that I am able to change perceptions about a subject. When I was at school my favourite teacher was my Biology teacher. He made the subject seem so easy and interesting. He showed deep passion for Biology, and I ended up loving the subject.

The value of support

One of the things that adds to fulfilment in the job is when you are able to improve learners’ performance. I was able to do this for Grade 12 Physical Science. It wasn’t easy. When I started in June 2015, I was thrown into the deep end. I was given Grade 12 learners who had not had a Physical Science teacher for 3 months before I started.

“It is important to me that I am able to change perceptions about a subject.”

I won’t lie, at some point I considered giving up, but then I remembered why I chose to go into teaching. The project helped me go the extra mile. I started offering extra classes which turned out to be very popular, with a huge response from the learners.

An enthusiastic learner is half the battle won. At the end of the year the Physical Science pass rate had improved from 52% to 64%! It was a huge affirmation for me.

The project has had a positive impact on my teaching experience. We did two weeks’ training, which covered elements of the Post-Graduate Diploma in Education - such as assessment, preparing files and the code of conduct. The programme coordinators did well to cover crucial aspects of classroom practice in a short space of time before we started teaching. However, it doesn’t end there. We also receive classroom visits and mentorship support and we have also formed a WhatsApp group where the Ambassadors share their experiences.

Obviously, it’s not all plain sailing. Completing the curriculum is the biggest challenge because there is a lot to cover and so I have initiated extra lessons with learners.Grade 11s and 12s respond well to extra classes as there is a sense of urgency to pass in the final years of school, whereas the Grade 8 learners have not been too keen on extra work.

Digital wave

Smartboards, laptops and projectors are useful in class. We do not have to spend time writing because we can show slides and play videos – this has eased some of the time burden for teachers.

Our school is part of the Gauteng Education Department’s tablets initiative, and we have found that the technology has worked well for us. We can even transfer question papers via Bluetooth to the tablets.

There were challenges using the technology at first – learners would start doing other things on the tablets such as playing games, listening to music and watching video clips instead of following lessons. I have since adopted a strategy of asking them to put their tablets away when I teach in order to avoid any distractions.

“When it comes to the classroom, learners can sense if a teacher really cares.”

Human relationships

Relationships with older, more experienced teachers have been a mixed bag. Sometimes I find that I cannot raise matters with them as it comes across as if I think I know better. Some may not accept the opinions of younger teachers, and are not as receptive to technology – however, many older teachers are trying to move with the times.

When it comes to the classroom, learners can sense if a teacher really cares. I speak to them about their lives, their goals and their ambitions and they open up. They become motivated when they see that someone really cares for them and has their best interests at heart.

Recently, a Grade 8 learner, who will be moving to another school in 2017, told me that she will remember me because she understands Mathematics and has come to enjoy the subject. She said I was responsible for the progress she has made – that was incredibly fulfilling to hear.

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 two-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.