Education

Like a candle

Shehnaz Essop Saloojee

Teaching is a fulfilling profession with memories that can be good, bad or even painful

A teacher is like a candle. A candle consumes itself to light the way for others. I, like thousands of other teachers, have been working tirelessly and giving of myself unselfishly for the past 27 years. During these years I have shed many tears — tears of joy, happiness and sadness. I have learnt that teaching is a thankless profession but also a fulfilling one. I have discovered that, as teachers, we have many memories — some good, some bad and some very painful.

A deep-rooted memory
An experience that touched me deeply and that will remain rooted in my memory is witnessing a learner drop from being a hero to being a zero. It was 2008. Thuto* was an intelligent learner in my grade seven English class. He had a great sense of humour and was well liked by both his classmates and teachers. However, after the June holidays, I noticed a change in his behaviour. He seemed to be quieter than usual, he started being a little rude to his friends and his marks began to drop. As the days passed, he lost popularity and, eventually, I noticed that he was often alone. Teachers began complaining about his academic performance and his behaviour too. He seemed to be alienated from his friends. His character changed from cheerful to sulky and often even aggressive. I became more and more concerned about the inexplicable change in Thuto’s attitude and, being a protective and caring teacher, I decided to intervene.

From hero to zero
One day, I decided to invite Thuto to my classroom for a light snack.  After a short casual discussion, he started to open up to me. I will never forget the pain in his words and the sombre look on his innocent young face when he told me that his alcoholic dad beat him and his mum almost daily. He said that he had to hide his two-year old little sister away by locking her up for hours so his dad would not beat her. The daily beatings, emotional pain and seeing his family fall apart were changing his life and personality. Within a few months, Thuto had moved from being a hero to a zero.  

Maternal support
My maternal instincts and desire to see every child healthy, happy and safe brought out the best in me with Thuto. It took me many weeks to heal his emotional wounds and raise him up again. He talked, I listened. He cried, I cared. With God’s mercy and grace, he slowly but surely began healing emotionally and got back on track academically. My daily positive talks, small but meaningful gifts, inspiration and just being there for him, gave him the courage to move on and accept things he could not change.

Picking up the pieces
Soon Thuto became buoyant and self-confident once again. He was back in the limelight and no longer felt like a fish out of water. I truly thank Allah for giving me the ability to sense when a child is in pain and the gift to help that child. My true calling is surely to be a teacher. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it’s still a beautiful world. Teachers all over the world have the power to show children the beauty that lies inside each one of them. It takes the big heart of a teacher to shape little minds.

Teaching is a fulfilling calling
Despite all the chaos and confusion going on in education today, I remain positive and just as passionate as I was when I started teaching almost three decades ago. I believe that a teacher takes a hand, opens a mind and touches a heart. Teaching also reminds me of Helen Keller’s famous words, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched.  They must be felt with the heart.” It is from experiences like the one I had with Thuto that I know teaching to be a most rewarding profession.

Essop Saloojee is a grade six and seven English teacher at Zinniaville Secondary School in the North West. She was the winner in the category of Excellence in Primary School Teaching in the 2011 National Teaching Awards.

*Not his real name

Originally published in: The Teacher

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