Treat learners like your own children

Yolande Mtwa teaches grade 10 and 12 history and isiXhosa at Efata School for the Blind and Deaf in the Eastern Cape.

Yolande Mtwa teaches grade 10 and 12 history and isiXhosa at Efata School for the Blind and Deaf in the Eastern Cape.

One of the things that comes naturally to teachers is the ability to bond with our learners to the point where we understand each one of them as if they were our own biological kids. We are able to pick up the slightest nuance in changes in them, for instance, by the way they talk or walk. This was the case with Sonwabo*, a physically disabled but intelligent and hard-working boy at Efata School for the Blind and Deaf in the Eastern Cape. He started to show clear signs  that something had gone horribly wrong by falling asleep in class and in the deteriorating quality of his school work. This got me worried and determined to find out more.

Sad discovery
What I discovered wrenched my heart. The boy’s mother had moved to Cape Town and left him with his grandmother who had then passed on. He had then been tossed from one relative to another. One of the relatives he stayed with was his aunt who proved to be unscrupulous. She misused the boy’s disability grant and hardly bought him anything valuable, not even a school uniform, books, toiletries or other basic necessities.

Praise singer
The boy was gifted with a good voice and was our school’s praise-singer I reckoned he could make a good newsreader. On one occasion we were preparing for a competition and I advised him to buy clothes suited for his role so that he looked the part. I assumed he would use his disability grant to buy the attire but he never did. When I enquired after this, he just could not give me the reason why he did not do that. As time was running out, I was forced to use my own money to buy clothes for him. I subsequently discovered that the boy’s aunt had given his identity document and disability grant card to local loan sharks as surety and that she was battling to pay her debts. All along, the boy was unaware of his aunt’s dealings. He only came to know about them through a manager of one of the loan sharks. This left him depressed and deeply devastated. The school’s management and hostel supervisors had not noticed the boy’s distress. As his teacher, I raised the matter with the school and we intervened on Sonwabo’s behalf.

Chased away
The aunt felt bad about what had happened and chased the boy away. The next person to take custody of him was his uncle, who proved to be the direct opposite of the boy’s aunt. He showered him with love and care and I could notice the difference, just from his appearance. Sonwabo even had a chance to visit his brother who was working in Cape Town.

Parental responsibility
Most parents do not realise that their irresponsible conduct has a direct effect on their children’s lives and futures. As teachers, we try our level best to help but we are not always able to pick up the problems. We lack expertise to make meaningful and timely interventions and by the time we do intervene, it may be too late. We need relevant skills to provide psycho-social support because we are the first ones to detect the problems. The lack of skills and expertise at schools to deal with these problems are the root cause of the high drop-out rate because learners do not get professional help soon enough to tackle the range of serious socio-economic challenges that disrupt their schooling. Unfortunately, it is teachers who take the rap. I call on all teachers: Let’s do our level best to help our learners, even if we feel we do not have the skills to deal with the challenge. If we all put our minds to it, we can do it and make an enormous difference.

Mtwa is a grade 10 and 12 history and isiXhosa teacher at Efata School for the Blind and Deaf in the Eastern Cape. She was a finalist in the category of Excellence in Inclusive Education and Special Needs Teaching in the 2010 National Teaching Awards.
*Not his real name.

Originally published in: The Teacher

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