Give us teachers room to teach

I returned to teaching in 2005. Although I teach at a school in the leafy northern suburbs of Cape Town, I was appalled by the lack of decent textbooks at the time. I watched my colleagues creating their own worksheets and I have been making them and notes for my classes ever since.

Crisis in education? Yes, without a doubt, as Andrew Verrijdt argued in these pages two weeks ago ("There is a crisis, Minister", June 29).

I think the cause of the crisis is not only to be found with the minister or director general of education. On the contrary, I wish sometimes that the education departments would butt out and leave us teachers to get on with the job, instead of insisting that we spend so much precious time on senseless administration.

If this country wants to see its children properly educated, I suggest that we first examine how student teachers are chosen. Only dedicated people should be allowed to stand in front of a class. Student teachers should be taught — trained, if you prefer — to teach.

Training should include:

  • Dealing with discipline;
  • Identifying pupils with learning difficulties;
  • Knowing how to handle reading disabilities; and
  • Having access to departmental educational psychologists

This last point is important in the case of pupils whose parents cannot afford to take their children to private practitioners to have them assessed for possible learning difficulties, for example.

Second, I suggest that we return to that awful thing called standards.

I agree with Mamphela Ramphele and Jonathan Jansen that it is an insult to our children to tell them that 30% is an acceptable pass mark. Proper standards should be applied from the lowest grade.

Please do not tell me that we upset children when we keep them back because their classmates are promoted to the next grade. They need to learn to deal with failure too. Do not underestimate children — they know when they cannot deal with the work.

Currently, they proceed to the next grade incapable of reading or doing the simplest mathematical calculations. By the time they reach high school, they are set up for failure.

It's all about the attitude
Third, and most important, is attitude. Teachers themselves must have the desire to lead children to a better future.

We also need the media to turn some attention to the hours we spend after school in front of the computer or studying educational material to find useful information on what we are expected to teach, instead of just pointing out what is wrong with some of us.

Teachers do not work half-day. We prepare to teach the next day. We mark tests, tasks and exam papers. We coach sports and transport sports teams to wherever they play matches — also during weekends.

Teachers teach children to play chess. We produce school plays and music concerts. We coach children to participate in eisteddfods. We publish good creative writing pieces by our pupils in a school publication. We offer extra academic classes after school. We supervise pupils doing their research for school tasks.

During school holidays, teachers accompany our sports teams, drama groups, orchestras and choirs all over the country to participate in matches and competitions. We prepare for the next term's teaching — studying, revising and creating teaching material — because we care about our pupils.

In my view, that is what makes for good education. I do not need the minister of education to tell me to do any of that. I do it because I am a teacher.

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