end of term musings...
After a difficult term with one of my classes (Grade 10s), we had a leadership camp in Greyton. The camp ended with a hike to Genadendal where the kids visited a museum where the first German missionary settled. While reflecting about the complexities about the idea of a “leadership camp”, a friend pointed out that leadership camps are like rites of passages in all middle class schools; “don’t question it too much, that’s just what we have to go through”.
What often appears as a series of “lame” activities to teenagers (like building a tower from recycled material) some of the learners realised the importance of planning and listening to one another when under pressure and learning to let other voices join a discussion even when there are time limitations in an activity. There were many questions and conversations amongst the kids about who they are, their personal development and what hiking to a small impoverished dorpie has to do with leadership. While hiking I asked one of the learners in my group what he thinks about the camp and the hike. He reflected that apart from the physical exhaustion, there might be value in starting a journey to nowhere, following the paths as they open up and learning to trust the people on the journey to encourage you along the way.
One of the joys of teaching is that my learners teach me without realising it. In spite of the challenges I have with them, they remind me of simple principles that we take for granted as adults. They’ve taught me to teach with a sense of humour and not to take myself too seriously. There’s nothing more humbling than standing in front of a group of teenagers who have the ability to turn a well-planned lesson upside down! They’ve taught me the importance of holding back my own answers and trusting them to find the answers themselves, rather than telling them what they ought to say to me. They’ve taught me that they too have knowledge and the right answer isn’t always the best answer. I’ve also learned to listen. I don’t listen as much as I talk as a teacher but fortunately there’s time to rectify this.
While teaching in my classroom by day, after hours I have been involved in more public debates about education. I was involved in the Conversations for Change series organised by the CMRS. A panel with Dr Mamphele Ramphele, Minister Trevor Manuel, Dr Rhoda Khadalie, Dr O’Connell and I gathered at UWC with the aim of addressing the education question. I didn’t blog about the event at the time because I had to mull over what the event meant and the outcomes of the event. I still don’t think this post will do any justice to my cerebrations, however, I was led to consider whose voices count when we talk about education reform in South Africa.
I also had the opportunity to share my views on eTV’s Sunrise morning show with Dr Mamphele Ramphele and Prof Mary Metcalfe. In spite of my misgivings about how the discussion on the show was framed, I realised the challenge of articulating my views as a young teacher. And on Youth Day I was at Ratanga Junction (not for the exciting rides) but for the TEDxCape Town Education event. I won’t do this event any justice as it was a mixture of inspiration, questions and reflections all in one day. All speakers reflected on their groundbreaking initiatives in education. The speakers included people who are leaders in their schools, communities and organisations. I also had the wonderful opportunity of being part of the TEDxYouth here in Cape Town where one of the Grade 11 learners from my school was the youngest speaker. I was humbled by his profound insights, his enthusiasm and maturity at the event.
After each event mentioned above I left wondering “What now?”. I learned to engage with other people’s ideas about education and even share my own, but in the bigger scheme of things, government remains unchallenged in the Eastern Cape, textbooks are still not delivered, we still face an exodus of teachers in South Africa and some children still go to mud schools or learn under trees.
While I may be sceptical about the level of conversation and action (or lack of) about education in this country, the past term’s events (within and beyond the classroom) have led to growth I would never have had as a student in university. Being in the midst of the real world and learning from weird teenagers means that I am yet again confronted with my own way of seeing the world. I’m content with not having any answers this time and simply learning from others.