Why we teach…

I have been teaching for four years. 

 

I want to tell you about 3 people I have had the privilege and honour of knowing. I don’t know where they are now but their lives and stories will stay with me forever.

 

E.

E was a fourth grade student in a well off school. He was your typical teachers nightmare: rude, violent, aggressive etc. His mother was called in almost every day for a variety of reasons. One day I sat down with him – at wits end – and asked him what he expected me to do with him. Then it came out: E suffers from a mild form of schizophrenia… he couldn’t control most of his actions and often blacked out during his outbursts. I tried (I say tried because I’m only human and often failed) to be patient with him. I spoke to his mother and together we came up with a plan. With weekly therapy sessions, we slowly began to see an improvement. E wrote all his thoughts and feelings in a journal which no one else had access to. The outbursts never went completely… but instead of taking his overflowing emotions and confusions out on other people; he managed to separate himself from others and sit on his own to calm down and collect himself before continuing with whatever. That first time that I spoke to his mom she told me that I was one of the first teachers to give her son positive reinforcement and it really helped him. Ever since out first chat he gave me a hug every time he saw me. He opened up. The moral? Never judge a child…

 

P.

P was in his A levels… He was a literature teacher’s dream; he had read almost everything I ever mentioned and many things I had never heard of. But there was always a sadness to him. One night I was out with my friends and I saw him in a bar (he was of legal age), somehow we get to talking and then it all came out. He had clinical depression and was a recovering substance abuser. I tried – again I say tried – to be as non-judgmental as possible. This child had had a vicious life filled with domestic and sexual violence and suicide attempts – which subsequently drove him into literature. It was his escape. I had – and still have – utmost respect for this young man. He was a survivor. He had the strength to fight through everyday and to plan for a future he had often thought of giving up on.  I sometimes wonder if I would have the strength of character that I saw every day from this 19 year old man. I don’t know where he is now or what he’s doing… but I hope he’s happy… or at least closer to being happy.

 

A.

A was a young Indian girl in my life skills class… her life was quite safe and happy. No major trauma or harm had ever come to her. Why she touched my life happened in the class in which we discussed sex and abstinence. This young girl, generally shy and soft spoken, said nothing in the class. The week after, however, she came to me and said that over the weekend she told her boyfriend that she wasn’t ready to have sex. I know this doesn’t seem amazing but to me it was. Many young girls in South Africa are pressured into having sex at shockingly young ages. This pressure can come from romantic partners, the media and peers… what astounded me about A is that she said NO. What earned my respect is that she could admit to herself that she wasn’t ready.

 

So this is why I teach. There have been hundreds of other amazing kids. Some slightly broken or damaged and others completely whole and well. I love and respect them all; and I will hold them in my heart for years to come. But these kids and others like them, to know that in some way I have touched their lives and helped to shape their futures… that is what makes everything else worth it.

 

I’m not a religious person, but I know – I can feel it in every fibre of my being – I am meant to help these kids. Whether to help them pass their exams and gain an education or to help them in other areas of life, it makes me feel like the world is worth living in to see that even I can make a positive change in someone’s life.

Going on faith…

So, it’s been a while. Things have been crazy…

 

I quite the job at the Primary school and have been offered to cover for one of the office ladies at the CIE college while she is on maternity leave. This will be a welcome change for me I think, although honestly after the four months of covering for the woman on Maternity leave I don’t know what I’m going to do but for now I’m going on faith…

 

Faith in what, I don’t know. I have never been a religious person so I don’t know what I’m having faith in but all I know for now is that I have faith.

 

Speaking of having faith… My car is more bust than ever… and I have less money than ever to fix it. I have been looking around for ways to get rid of it and buy a car that isn’t trying to kill me but things (like not having any money) have been holding up the process. I am hoping to hear from a salesman at a Toyota dealership this week so please hold thumbs for me. 

 

And life in general? It’s good I guess… My boyfriend and I will celebrate our two year anniversary this week… It’s been an interesting two years. He’s seen me at my best, my worst, my most beautiful and my most hideous. So I can say in all honesty without him I wouldn’t be the person I am now. As sappy and cliche’ as it may seem he completes me. Being with him brings out the best version of myself and I feel I do the same for him. 

 

My students at the CIE college have been everything I’ve always loved them to be: self sufficient and well rounded people. My AS Level Literature class are absolutely amazing and so are my IGCSE language kids. They are all amazing, each in their own way. My biggest achievement right now is that one of my kids has finally started opening up to me. He is highly intelligent but he has Asperger’s Syndrome so often talking to people is generally difficult to him. 

 

I really appreciate my job because I get to meet each of these kids and get to know them. My colleagues may often make me feel frustrated and annoyed but the kids make up for it. These kids have no idea how special they are and honestly, the crappy salary can be forgotten when I say something to these kids and I see a light go on, that shift of facial expression when they understand a concept I’m trying to explain. 

 

Now it’s not that I’m lax with them. In fact I’m quite strict: no talking, no cellphones, no hats, no rocking on the chair, no slang, no swearing and they have to be polite to each other at all times. 

 

So yes, finally I am getting away from a job that’s slowly killing me and (hopefully) I’ll soon have a car that’s not trying to kill me… All of this has been done on faith.

 

Maybe faith will pay off?

Scams here, scams there, scams everywhere…

So, as I’ve said, I’m desperately looking to leave my one job where I am verbaly abused by co-workers, superiors, children and parents…

 

I have found a temporary solution that will see me through from July till October, A woman I know will be on maternity leave and she needs someone to cover for her. But what then? 

 

Unfortunately, part time teachers are not in high demand and the places that are hiring are looking for someone in the morning, so that doesn’t help me either. Of course I could quit both jobs and get a full time job but my absolute love for the Cambridge college and the kids there stops me from doing this. I didn’t get into teaching for the money – no one does. I got into it because of my passion for my subject and my kids… but it would be nice for my accounts to not be permanently overdrawn..

 

I have signed up on a freelance website but so far that hasn’t helped… all the jobs want x amount of experience from other jobs on the site. Experience I cant get without getting work. And most of the time all my internet searches turn up is scams… you know what I’m talking about. Those horrendous pyramid schemes that end up duping the unsuspecting into giving money to someone they’ve never met. Thankfully I have the sense not to fall for those.

 

A perfect option would be to work directly for the Cambridge International Exams board but for that I need a UK bank account. Which I don’t have and – after many hours of inquiry realised – is impossible to get unless you actually live in the UK.

 

I guess I’m just frustrated. Everyone always says the key to a good life is to love your job. I do. I cannot think of anything that would make me happier. Yet, somehow, that doesn’t seem to be paying the bills.

 

Just wish I knew what to do. Staying at this afternoon job is slowly killing me. 

Boss vs Leader

So, as I’ve said before, I work at two separate schools. 

 

I would just like this moment to show a great deal of gratitude for my Group Director of Studies at the Cambridge based school.

This woman is an exemplary teacher and leader. She is compassionate to those who work under her and extremely knowledgeable about her field.

 

I told her some of the problems I’ve been having at my other school and immediately she came up with ideas on how I can supplement that income so I can leave that job. She has become my role-model in many ways. She knows the name of each student within the College and also knows their backgrounds, she never complains about anything and is always there to give advice, constructive criticism and ideas. In the two years that I’ve known her I have never seen her get angry.

 

She is a true example of a leader. She always focuses on the staff as a whole and counts herself among them and not above them.

 

It is an honor to work with her.

 

Unlike another boss I know… a boss who is always angry at his staff, a boss who makes it clear to everyone that he is above them. 

 

If it weren’t for my attempt at anonymity to protect the identity of my students I would name this remarkable woman. For now, however, all I can say is that she has inspired my future in a way no other employer ever has. 

 

People like her are rare, but they do exist. 

Rant – not really related to teaching

Teachers don’t earn much.

That’s quite a universal problem.

 

So this morning when my car suddenly decided it didn’t want to work it caused a huge problem for me. 

I have car insurance but they and the mechanic will probably take a while to help me get my car back to working order. Until then then I have a problem: how do I get to school?

 

I already took today off, for lack of transport and to deal with the ensuing phone calls and paper work that comes with having a broken down car. 

But tomorrow and until my car is fixed I have no way to get to school and back. Those of you that have ever been to South Africa know that public transport is pretty much non-existent and that walking – at any time of day – as a young woman alone is a dangerous idea. Especially since I would need to carry my laptop with me. And I don’t think it’s physically possible for me to walk 24 kilometers to my afternoon school. 

 

Murphy’s law comes into play when considering that my car was meant to go in for a quote on Saturday morning anyway. 

 

Now my rant is this: I should take better care of my car. I know that, but car maintenance is expensive and – in all honesty – my salary barely get’s me from month to month. I’m sure others can relate. Now the schools I work at deduct pay if you don’t work, which is a fair system, but it does leave me with a sense of despair…

 

Why do our governments, institutions etc feel that a teacher’s worth is barely above minimum wage? Aren’t we shaping the minds of the future? Inspiring the doctors, scientists, leaders of tomorrow? 

 

How are we supposed to do that if we can’t afford to have cars in working order to get to school?

 

-sigh-

A note on discipline

Now we all know that effective discipline starts at home… but what if the parents/caregivers don’t believe in discipline?

 

In South Africa there seems to be this idea that no matter what the child has done – rather than hand out any kind of discipline – you should talk to the child to understand their motives behind their actions.

 

In theory I totally agree. Yes, especially with teenagers. Talk to them, listen to them, find out what’s really going on. But does the same apply to smaller children?

 

Of the 7 year olds I work with there are 2 that are just inexplicably naughty. Today for example; one of these children threw a tantrum, broke another child’s pencil case, swore at his friend, tried to trip me and finally threw a stone at me. This is not a rare day for this child. This is how he is every single day. I have spoken to his parents and they feel that I should just try to be more gentle with him. try to “understand what emotional things he’s going through”. He’s 7. With the perfect example of a nuclear family: Mom and dad still together, adoring sibling, no history of drugs, violence or abuse.

 

Personally if he were my child I’d give him a decent spanking. I’m not advocating child abuse. Not at all. However, I received a great many spankings growing up and 1) I know I deserved them and 2) they probably saved me from developing a trend of negative and deconstructive behaviour. I fully agree that the cause of a child’s behaviour should be sought and dealt with, but what about when the cause is a total lack of discipline at home?

 

Normally I would just write the whole issue off and continue ignoring this child’s insolence but now he’s negatively influencing genuinely good children. I have spoken to the powers that be at my school and they have said all they can do is continue to give the child – and his parents – warnings. I’m at my wits end.

So…let’s get things going

To blog, or not to blog?

That is the question.

 

I have been trying to decide for months whether I should write anything or not. The thing is, I don’t want to come across as any of my most hated teaching stereotypes – “the new teacher”, “the nothing-surprises-me-anymore” or – Heaven’s forbid –  “the I-hate-my-job”.

Eventually, after a long hot shower – where I do my best thinking – I decided what the heck. What could it hurt?

 

So, welcome to my blog where I will – or, at least, I hope I will – introduce you to some experiences I’ve had as a teacher. Some will be positive, others negative; some will be rants, others recollections.

 

First, a bit about me.

 

I live in South Africa, the country where I was born. I’m not patriotic per say but I do believe that it is a beautiful country filled with a opportunities and the people in it are truly the “Rainbow Nation”.

I have a Bachelors degree in English Studies which I followed up with a TESOL diploma. This year I completed my Honors degree in English Studies. The South African tertiary education is different to many countries as our Bachelor’s degree is only 3 years and then we have an Honors degree which must be taken before attempting a Master’s.

 

I have been teaching since 2011. First I went to South Korea, Jeonju to be precise, to make some money while I figure out what I want to do with my life. I taught at an all girls high school and I loved it. I fell in love with teaching, being in a classroom and connecting with young people.

When I came home in 2012 I did English Foreign Language teaching, there is quite a market for that in Pretoria, South Africa as that’s where the majority of the embassies are.

In 2013 I was teaching English as a Foreign Language when I started working part time at a Cambridge International Exams (CIE) College.

I really feel like the  CIE college inspired me. I am now at the main campus of the college teaching English Language and Literature at Checkpoint, IGCSE and AS Levels. Oh, and Life Skills.

 

I have a deep respect for the CIE syllabus, more so than the South African syllabus, so I think for now I’ve found my niche.

 

Unfortunately, teaching is not a well paying profession so I also supplement my income with caring for Grade 1’s (6/7 year olds) in the afternoons. This has been a learning experience for me but I am making plans to get more involved with the CIE board so, hopefully, in a year or so I will be able to survive just on my CIE salary.

 

Personal life: I am very close to certain members of my family. My mother in particular. She has made me the person I am today and still inspires me greatly. I share an apartment with my long term boyfriend and our two cats. I don’t have much social life to speak of but I greatly enjoy reading and relaxing at home.

 

As a person I take my job very seriously. And I can’t stand teachers who don’t. No matter your subject or syllabus or grade: you are influencing the lives of the kids in your care. You should be an example to them, someone they can trust and admire.

 

In my opinion, anyway.