Who was your favourite teacher when you were at school? You might find that you regard that person as a role model and some of that teacher’s habits might even have become your own when you step into the classroom. Jonathan Jansen’s book Great South African Teachers (published by Bookstorm and Pan Macmillan, 2011) is an inspirational, heart-warming and — at times — deeply moving book about teachers. The book is based on an invitation given to South Africans to submit a story about the teacher who had the greatest effect on their lives. The editorial team was flooded with stories about very special teachers. They realised that there was not any one particular personality or teaching style that characterised those splendid teachers. Wonderful teachers are as deliciously different as a bag of Liquorice Allsorts. To help in the selection process, the editors placed the teachers in one of seven broad categories.
This is a teacher who is passionate about the subject and pupils learn to love it too. The subject is taught in a way that makes it really relevant beyond the classroom door.
These leaders speak up against societal injustices. They ensure their pupils are aware of how to treat fellow human beings.
There is a true classroom scene of a grade four child who absent-mindedly asks: “Mom, how do I do this sum?” The child subconsciously sees the teacher as far more than a teacher. The extended parent teacher cares for the child as a loving parent would. There’s care, empathy and intuitive understanding. The child is not only in the teacher’s classroom but also in the teacher’s heart.
Some teachers are role models through inspirational teaching. Their words are words of encouragement, insight and wisdom. This inspiration can also be based on their sense of caring and kindness. Examples are mentors who personally sponsor educational tours, school fees and uniforms for pupils with financial challenges.
These teachers view their classrooms as much more than a room with rows of wooden desks. Rather, classrooms are stages on which to live life passionately. Teaching should be absorbing, exciting and make unforgettable lifelong impressions. Pupils are taken out of their passive cocooned comfort zones and are challenged to see their world afresh.
The Biblical line that “a soft answer turns away wrath” neatly describes this teacher. There is excellent classroom discipline, but there is no need for verbal or physical threats. Sarcasm isn’t in their make-up, but gentle, amusing put-downs might be. The teacher gets deserved respect because of the respect shown towards every pupil.
“Fear me first and you’ll like me later,” seems to be a motto of the tough-love coach. From the outset, the pupils know the rules of the relationship and the “eina” consequences if they are not obeyed. Yet, in time, pupils sense that the teacher truly cares for them. They realise that the teacher is determined to turn them into all that they could possibly be. Although the outstanding teachers described in the book did not fit into any one single mould, they all were — in the words of Jansen — “beyond teachers”. They went beyond the call of duty and did much more than what they were paid for. Whether it was the rich array of extramural commitments from sport to music to field trips, these teachers did not do the minimum or check their clocks to make sure they remained with the hours that the unions observed. For these great teachers, teaching was their life.
Whatever way you would describe yourself, the ideal is to be a “beyond teacher”. If you are putting in all that extra time with a dedicated willing heart, you are already a South African teacher of great quality.
The South African Quality Institute runs total quality education workshops across the country. Poor schools are sponsored. For more details, contact Vanessa du Toit (012 349 5006; [email protected]) or Richard Hayward (011 888 3262; [email protected]