Being an authority on early childhood development
Mamokete Zondi embodies the essence of what every teacher should be: kind, humble, soft-spoken, committed and, above all, passionate.
As a teacher at Mehopung Primary School in Ficksburg, in the Free State, Zondi, who teaches grade R, started teaching in 2004.
Since then she has become an authority in most aspects of early childhood development (ECD).
“Most ECD teachers who have just entered the profession turn to me for assistance and I always avail myself because I feel it is important to share and impart knowledge to those in need of it,” Zondi said.
Earlier this year she was the winner in the category of Excellence in Grade R Teaching in the 2010 National Teaching Awards hosted by the department of basic education. Not only was this a feather in her cap but it also affirmed her as one of the gems in the system, the kind that the department could rely on to fulfil its primary objective of providing quality education.
Despite the fact that scores of grade R teachers are leaving the sector as a result of poor pay and benefits, as well as a range of other challenges, Zondi has chosen to stay put simply because she values education.
“I like teaching the grade Rs. To me, grade R is a crucial phase that helps lay a firm foundation on which learners can build their future academic careers. It helps to socialise them to become valuable members of their communities.
“Being a teacher at this level calls on you to be considerate and conscientious because here you are dealing with young people who accept information and follow instructions without questioning. It places a huge responsibility on you to always do the right thing, for failure to do so could ruin not only their futures but that of the broader community,” said Zondi.
Mehopung Primary School serves a poor community where most parents cannot afford to pay fees, let alone buy toys and other learning tools required for grade R learners. Her school is not funded by the department and operates on a shoestring budget, compelling her to use her salary to buy some of the learning materials.
Whereas this kind of situation would demoralise most teachers, Zondi sees it as a challenge and it has turned her into an expert on improvisation. For instance, she uses waste materials, such bottle tops, to make various shapes for teaching purposes.
The department needs to strengthen its psychosocial support to assist teachers who are overwhelmed by the range of challenges they confront on a daily basis. “On various occasions we are called upon to play the roles of policemen, social workers, mothers, psychologists and so on,” said Zondi.
She cautioned teachers to change their attitudes to keep the image of the profession intact. “I really feel some teachers do not really pull up their socks. They are sluggish and lack a sense of selflessness and sacrifice,” she said. “We need to have a positive mental attitude.”
Zondi has just been appointed a co-ordinator of the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements and has been busy conducting training courses for her colleagues during the winter school holidays. “My wish is to see more teachers empowered as this will enhance learner performance,” said Zondi.
How does she strike a balance between her career and being a mother? “I have an 18-month-old baby and this makes things a bit unbearable. But I ensure that neither my career nor motherhood suffers. After I have finished teaching at 2.30pm, I prepare for the next day and then rush home to bond with my baby until the early evening when my husband joins us from work. But, I must say, juggling the two can be challenging sometimes,” said Zondi.
Her advice to women in general and teachers in particular: everyone must see herself as a heroine in her own right.
“God gave you special attributes and capabilities to nurture and raise not only your families but your communities. You are gifted with unique skills and the temperament to raise children and nations.”