/ 31 August 2009

Turning tears to smiles

It was 2002 and I was teaching in the foundation phase. One interesting thing I love about being a foundation phase teacher is that your learners tend to imitate just about everything you do. The way you dress, how you style your hair, the way you walk, almost everything. But they are also very intelligent and all they need is love, care and some stimulation.

On that day my lesson focused on “step-parent”, a subject to which I can relate because I was raised by one. I had this bright and intelligent girl learner in my class. For convenience, let’s call her Amu.

She put so much effort in her schoolwork that every time I gave the class work she would get full marks. She was also very compassionate and would go out of her way to help other learners to read. I told her she would be a responsible adult. I’m sure she’s adding to that and, wherever she is, is well on her way to being just that.

On that day I had prepared all my teaching aids as usual with the help of my energetic angels, who already had their colouring pencils at hand. I wanted them to link the lesson to their own families. We also looked at other aspects, such as nuclear family and extended family.

This triggered a lively discussion among the learners with all eager to share their own family experiences. Amu was somewhat reserved. When she did say something she talked only about her dad. I reminded her that I was also a daddy’s girl after my mom died when I was three. As the lesson progressed she grew even more reticent amid the animated chattering of her fellow learners.

She looked morose. I asked her how she would categorise her family. She shrugged her shoulders. After the lesson she was crying. I immediately dropped everything and focused on her, giving the other learners activities to keep them busy.

Amu told me she stayed with her stepmother, a set-up she was not comfortable with. She felt her stepmother discriminated against her and did not make an effort to make her [Amu] part of her life. She said her stepmother focused a lot on her baby and just did not care about her.

I tapped into my own experience once again. I did a few illustrations of a staircase, explaining that since she called her new mom a stepmother, they would never be on the same level.

I said that until the word “step” was removed and she gave her new mom a chance, they would not be on the same level and she would feel left out. I suggested the first move was to ditch the word “step” and see if things improved between them.

She seemed impressed and took the illustrations home to show her dad. The next day her dad came to school to thank me for changing Amu’s attitude towards her mom.

Many things happened that brought a smile or made me shed a tear with my learners. This incident was just one of those special moments.

Lorraine Mabitsela teaches at Braamfischerville Primary School in Dobsonville, Soweto. Mabitsela was the winner in the category of Excellence in Primary School Teaching category in the 2007 National Teaching Awards