I want to change the world
<strong>Why did I choose to become a teacher? </strong>
The answer is quite simple; I want to change the world. The classroom is truly a place of possibilities. Too often we become caught up in teaching the curriculum instead of teaching and educating the person: showing someone how to be a good, decent human being, how to be a good leader, teaching them values and morals and how to contribute in a meaningful way to society. The curriculum is a secondary objective; instead of ticking boxes and account to the department, I would rather generate learners’ love and passion for my subject.
For me the National Teaching Awards was truly a humbling experience because I gained a lot of experience and grew as a teacher. Over the course of the awards process I got to spend valuable time sharing experiences with other educators. What became quite apparent is that these national heroes were ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary feats in their communities. After all, this is truly what the definition of a teacher is. We shared a lot of experiences as teachers and there was a particularly touching story that I spoke to my learners about.
<strong>Not the usual school boy</strong>
It was about a boy called Harry who did not fit the typical school boy appearance. His uniform was somewhat unkempt and his appearance was scruffy. Every day Harry would default in some way with his homework or it would be done in a shoddy and neglected fashion, and he never handed in projects on time.
Despite all of this, the teacher always thought that there was a certain spark about him but he simply was not working hard. He could achieve so much more if he just chose to apply himself. This was understandably frustrating to his teacher, who, after numerous verbal warnings and lectures, one day decided “enough is enough” and planned to get hold of Harry’s parents. The details of the parents were not on the school system as most parents don’t have contact home telephone numbers let alone email addresses.
<strong>Sewer pipe home</strong>
The other problem was that his teacher was not sure if it was worthwhile contacting Harry’s parents. This is because most parents in the community were not that interested in their children’s education, let alone suggest solutions to the problem. One day the teacher decided to follow him home.
Keeping his distance, he followed Harru down the various dirt roads between the rundown houses. The teacher lost sight of Harry and asked directions from the locals and eventually tracked him down. To his amazement he found the boy busy with his school work in his “home” — an abandoned concrete sewer pipe.
<strong>Scavenging for food</strong>
Going to school every day was difficult for Harry, but he chose to get up, dress up and show up. On his way to school he would search dustbins for food, scraps of paper and a pen to use at school. Homework could only be done as long as there was sufficient light.
When asked why he came to school every day, Harry said that education was the only thing worthwhile in his life. He was certain that education was the only way he would be able to make something of himself in the future and change his circumstances. When asked what he wanted to do when older, he answered without hesitation: “I want to build homes for those who do not have any.” Despite all these obstacles Harry was determined to persevere, to make a success and a difference.
<strong>Use the classroom to change the world</strong>
As the saying goes: “Excuses are, after all, the tools with which people with no purpose in view build for themselves great monuments of nothing.” Next time you are thinking of an excuse not to give 100%, remember that somewhere there is a person in a drain pipe waiting to take your place.
Think about it: South Africa bubbles with wonderful and culturally diverse people, complemented by our country’s beautiful landscape, abundant wildlife, breath-taking coastline, and sporting achievements. These are the reasons that South Africa touches the hearts of people in a special way. Decades of sunshine, wilderness and interaction between different races have shaped us into our unique form, truly and proudly South African.
Despite all this, South Africa’s emigration rate has been higher than what can be described as “normal migration” and there has been significant concern over the so-called “brain drain” — skilled people leaving (many of my teaching colleagues are over in the United Kingdom at present). So I am appealing to you to go out and be great in your classrooms, you can be great anywhere, but choose to be great right here. Choose to change the world through what you do in your classroom.
<em>Roland Ruud teaches engineering, graphic and design to grade 9-12 at Wynberg Boys High School in the Western Cape.</em>