Use your power well

Vijay Reddy is the Human Sciences Research Council’s (HSRC) executive director of the education and skills development research programme. Her first jobs were as a mathematics and science teacher at Umzinto and Chatsworth Secondary Schools.

She lectured in physical science to teacher trainees at the then-Transvaal College of Education. Reddy later joined the Science Education Project, involved in in-service education for science teachers. After that she taught chemistry as part of bridging programmes for the universities of Cape Town and Natal. Before joining the HSRC, Reddy was a staff member in the education faculty at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

How old are you?
Old enough that I still use the word teachers and students instead of educators and learners!

Where did you grow up?

I was born in the Chatsworth area of Durban.

Where were you educated?
I started my schooling at the Bayview State-Aided School, which my grandfather built with the help of a group of farmers. I then attended the Chatsworth Secondary School, the first high school in the Chatsworth area. I enjoyed my schooling years and did well in both academic and sporting activities. My first degree was from the University of Durban-Westville, where I qualified in chemistry and mathematics. I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and completed my master’s degree at Rutgers University, in the United States, with supervision from the University of Durban-Westville and Sussex University.

Did you have a favourite teacher(s)?
Two stand out: In high school my mathematics teacher, Mr Sewjathan was excellent. The other is my doctoral supervisor, professor Jonathan Jansen.

Why were you so fond of them?
Sewjathan was a performer par excellence. I still remember my maths lessons in standard six, when he constantly asked questions and inculcated the skills for problem-solving, reasoning and making sense of the world. I loved the mathematical challenges he presented. Jonathan gave one the confidence and spaces to explore new ways of thinking. He taught me to always make a strong and rigorous argument to defend my point of view.

What influence did they have on you?
I taught at a high school for four years and I modelled my practice in the classroom on the way Sewjathan taught me to constantly challenge my students’ thinking and raising the bar of performance I expected from my students. Jonathan was my academic mentor. He taught me not to tolerate mediocrity and he challenged my thinking.

Do you still have contact with them and, if yes, how?
Unfortunately, Mr Sewjathan passed away. Jonathan and I are still in contact although, because of both our job responsibilities, it is not as frequent as I would like.

What were your favourite subjects and why?
Mathematics – I loved the beauty of the logical thinking. I loved finding a solution to problems.

From your point of view, what are the qualities of a good teacher?
The teacher must be knowledgeable about the subject matter. Students respect this. Teachers must be passionate about teaching and see themselves as constant learners. As a teacher, you must genuinely like being with students.
What are the things a teacher should never do or say? Never say to students that they cannot do something.

What message do you have for teachers in South Africa?
Teachers have a huge impact on the lives of young people. They shape the educational, work and life pathways of students. It is important that teachers recognise their power and use it well.

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