The Whole Child recently sat down with six phenomenal teachers from Kwacutshwayo Primary School to discuss the year that they experienced.
Whilst grappling with their own fragile reality during lockdown, to feeling the full weight of responsibility to children they could not reach out to; we wanted to listen to their stories.
If COVID-19 has accelerated positive change in spheres, it goes without saying that it also had a negative impact on other spheres. Before we jump into the future with assumptions as to what a sphere like education, and in particular Kwacutshwayo Primary School will need for its future, we decided to go straight to the frontlines and hear it for ourselves.
Join us over the next couple of weeks as we share some of these stories with you, and join us in honouring the teachers that accomplished so much with the very little they had.
Meet Thandeka, a grade one teacher from Kwacutshwayo Primary School. To say this has been an easy year for Thandeka would be difficult. The fragility of the fractures in her life was shown this year as she was tested by the lockdown restrictions and not being able to be with her children. Her personal life was filled with anxiety, frustration and confusion; but above all, she also discovered who her trusted community were amid the hardship. Professionally, she faced the challenges that teachers all around our country faced. She looked on as fee-paying schools in wealthier areas that enjoyed access to education and resources whereas under-resourced and poorer areas lacked. She fears that a lot of her children all sit below average in the most basic skills of reading and writing. But what stood out to her most, was the highly competent School Management Team that the school is blessed to have. Even when the year seemed tough, the Team were available to serve teachers and children and to make every effort to save the year for the children
Meet Snqo, a grade six teacher from Kwacutshwayo Primary School. Snqo best described the year as most frightening. There was no doubt that the initial lockdown brought a lot of fear and uncertainty, and Snqo felt the full weight of it. However, when schools were announced as reopened, she and her fellow educators arose to the challenge, strapped on their tool belts, and prepared themselves to take on the immense task of serving the children of Tshelimnyama. Quoting Maya Angelou, she reflects that teachers “have sacrificed a lot to be here…” – which we can all agree that they have indeed. Although teachers are back at work, it feels to her that they are playing catch-up. The task ahead is just too immense, and they are not moving at the pace that they are meant to be at. The fragility of the education system has been pushed to its threshold, and there’s uncertainty as to how teachers ought to do their work going forward. But mostly, Snqo is amazed by how much children have trusted their teachers over this time. She believes that if teachers are upskilled, then what they learn will inevitably translate over to their children and make a greater impact in the children’s lives.
Meet Sbonelo, a grade four English teacher from Kwacutshwayo Primary School. Sbonelo felt trapped during this lockdown period. As somebody who enjoys being around his direct community, not being able to be in touch with them felt like torture in a prison. Not only was his value for people challenged, but he grew a much bigger sense of appreciation for the community he is part of. As Sbonelo reflected over the lockdown period, he remarked on the immense positive impact that South African’s had on other people’s lives. He was at a point where he wasn’t sure if there were still good people in South Africa, but that all changed as he saw the efforts some people of privilege went through to care for the problems in our nation. The biggest problems he faced were to do with educational institutions. He would love to see an overhaul of the education system, one where a much bigger budget is allocated to build capacity in education, employ more teachers, provide more teaching aids, and expose teachers to workshops that help them prepare for the worst and leverage available resources to make the biggest impact.
Meet Nombuso, a grade seven teacher from Kwacutshwayo Primary School. Nombuso could not hold back when she described this year. This year was a monster, and she was horrified that out of all the challenges they faced, this was now the peak of it all. She felt deeply uncertain about the future, given that the year exposed so many flaws in the education system; from the curriculum to the practical, physical amenities and resources. However, all was not lost for her and Kwacutshwayo Primary School. Nombuso believes that there needs to be much greater encouragement by leaders for public-private partnerships. She saw first-hand how collaborative partnerships with organizations and private companies gave her school a step-up compared to other schools in the area. She expressed her gratitude for these relationships and looks forward to building more relationships in the future.
Meet Zanele, a grade three teacher from Kwacutshwayo Primary School. Zanele’s experience of the year was no different to anybody else; she was scared of the present and the future that COVID-19 exposed. Her trials ranged from not being able to be part of her community, which highlighted our nation’s need for one another. Having to adjust to a different routine and challenges had its toll on her. However, she marvelled at the generosity that people showed in her community to help each other out. She praised the governments efforts to try and help people financially over this year, and she loved that she could still engage with important tasks like online banking and even attending online Church! To see how the internet could be leveraged for good during this year had been an eye-opener for her. Most of all, Zanele was challenged to live a healthier life and to maintain healthy habits. Zanele battles with the disengagement parents have with their children’s education. She attributes this to a generation of parents who cannot read or write, and so engaging with their children’s education is not easy. Further, the smaller classes have shown her and other teachers just how important smaller classes are to quality education. She felt she could be a more hands-on teacher during this year, given the challenges they still faced.
Meet Toh, a grade one teacher from Kwacutshwayo Primary School. Toh felt scared this year but testified that her faith in God had never been greater. Sure, she felt a sense of loneliness from not being around those closest to her, but her love for God and people grew. Toh has had to become a very adaptable educator throughout her life. Having been a Grade One teacher for a long time, she had to adapt to Grade Seven upon returning to school after the lockdown as each teacher had to fill whatever gap was presented. She felt that her gift to others over this season was to encourage her colleagues. Many were impacted emotionally over this time, and being there for her teachers was a high priority. Toh remarked on the huge imbalance there is in education in this country between wealthier and poorer schools. This season certainly showed it all. From resources to class sizes, to online access and parent engagement; Toh feels this problem needs to be solved as a matter of urgency. She believes there needs to be a greater drive to foster a culture of parents being highly engaged with their children’s schools and education. Toh’s biggest highlight this year was the incredible unity that the staff at Kwacutshwayo Primary School enjoyed over this year. The blessing the School Management Team and their Principal was during this year has been immeasurable. She hopes and believes that the children have seen this unity and that they will carry it into their lives as they grow up.