Living my destiny

Themba MoyakeThemba Moyake Grade 11 & 12 English Teacher, at Mpilisweni Secondary School

Starting point

I have a post-graduate degree in African Literature - my undergraduate majors were in African Literature and Political Studies and I have done my Masters in Literature. I wanted to teach after the experience of working in an NGO and teaching for eight years and so I decided to enrol for a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) at UNISA. However, they wanted me to do basic courses in language again. So I did “Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)” - a Cambridge University-accredited course done through the international House Language Lab in Johannesburg, and was then able to register for the PGCE through UNISA.

The Teach South Africa Project provides training to graduates to prepare them for the teaching assignment, and provides ongoing mentoring support to the graduates whilst in the schools. The graduates fill vacant posts in Mathematics, Science or English in schools and are paid a salary (as an unqualified teacher) by the relevant Provincial Education Departments. We need more ambassadors in the programme as they do very well – perhaps it has something to do with their existing qualifications, even though they do not have professional teaching qualifications.

I think that the Teach SA Project is a very important project because on the ground there are so many gaps in teaching. Interestingly, a recent study suggested that having a teaching qualification, does not make one a good, quality teacher. I think the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) is very limited in how they look at qualifications. I say this because there are internationally recognised teaching qualifications which are not recognized locally and Teach SA ambassadors have degrees whose value and relevance in the teaching fraternity usually allows them to rise rapidly in the ranks - even to the rank of Head of Department within a short space of time of joining the Education Department in their respective schools.

Overcoming obstacles

“I am finding that learners need to hear, listen and speak, and so I am hoping the language lab, audio books, pronunciation and model speaking sessions will assist learners.”

I am teaching English as a First Additional Language (FAL) to Grade 11 and 12 learners in Katlehong and I am incredibly excited and inspired. I am finding that my TEFL/CELTA qualification is helping me, as it is about teaching English to people who learn it as a second language. I have also taught English Home Language for eight years in Soweto through an NGO called Mphatlalatsane Educational Project. But, in spite of all of this, I just do not have the recognized qualification to teach locally. So, unlike most ambassadors, I had experience in the classroom prior to joining Teach SA. The day to day challenges I encounter when teaching at the FET level include, but are not limited to, dealing with basic things such as grammar and vocabulary, which are not processed adequately by the learners. The learners have many difficulties as they are usually undeservedly progressed into higher grades. This and several other social ills which continue to plague the economies of the disenfranchised affect our abilities as teachers to effect positive change. Thus, even though I have lots of experience, I still find it difficult to accomplish some goals.

Currently, I am writing a proposal to set up a language lab at the school because I feel there have been years of miseducation which need 21st century methodologies of teaching for adequate redress.

In order for learners to appreciate the learning of any language they need to hear, listen and speak - and because we have smart boards - I hope that the language lab will help a great deal. We need to have a culture where we introduce audio books, pronunciation and model speaking sessions which will assist learners to develop their literacy levels. And, we need to encourage many teachers across the curriculum to teach in standard English.

Within the framework of other critical language debates around the country, I have found that students want to debate African ethnicity and embrace African languages at the expense of English. One student once quipped: “I am Xhosa and I am proud of my language, why do I need to learn English?”

My learners’ backgrounds vary ethnically, but I look forward to showing them how multilingualism can place them in positions of opportunity. I want to expand their perspective and I plan to continue exposing them to competitions such as the English Olympiad (which I began in 2015) to enrich their learning experiences. I always try to design exciting lessons using the smart board. But the miseducation most learners have been exposed to in the past years proves to be a stumbling block – it is not something that can be changed overnight. Generally, there isn’t much effort from the learners. And, we need to guard against this culture of academic apathy.

Installing technology at schools as government policy is good, but I think that the detail of implementation has not been thought through well. The maintenance, insurance and sustainable use of the technological facilities has not been consistently overseen and is usually not introduced with an implementable standard ICT policy. This makes me concerned about how long the technology will be available for students and teachers.

Read, read and read!

“I will stay in teaching because I think of it as my destiny. Eventually, I would like see myself teaching at university, and all these experiences will add richness to my journey.”

I hope to get learners to read a lot more. They have a few genres of literature prescribed and that’s good because they get exposed to a diverse range of narratives.

On a personal level, my list of favourite authors is extensive! If I were to choose a favourite writer perhaps I’d settle with Yevgeny Yevtushenko, a Russian author that made an early impression on me. I appreciate Caribbean writers for how they use English. Writers such as Earl Lovelace and VS Naipaul, Beryl Gilroy and Marlon James. In South Africa, Can Temba is my favourite by far. I also dabble with some Japanese writers. Writers like Haruki Murakami, Kenzaburo Oe and recently, Yasunari Kawabata. I like these authors because of how they use language – simply magical. I like lending books to learners as we do not have an extensively functional library at the school.

I will stay in teaching because I think of it as my destiny. Eventually, I would like see myself teaching at universities and I think that all these experiences will add richness to my journey. It is great – from time to time – to get an email from former and current students who tell me that I have had a positive impact on their lives. I love it. I also enjoy assisting them with university applications. I, essentially, like to be of service, and I am never able to say no when asked for help. This is my Achilles heel because I end up getting side tracked trying to play the role of Superman.

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.