Friday, 26 October 2012

A temporary educator's tale in the Eastern Cape

How do we making teaching ‘cool’ enough to attract the best students to be our educators when ‘we’ silently kill those who are already in the system? This question was asked at the recent Community of Mandela Rhodes Scholars Community summit held at the University of the Free State. It reminded me of the heartache and joys that some young educators are facing on daily basis.
Tembela Mahebe, a 27 year old temporary educator at the Barkley Circuit, in the Eastern Cape is a product of a developing school. She obtained her Bachelor of Education degree, majoring in Economics and Business Economics from Walter Sisulu University. She says when she walked into her first practical class in a local high school in Whittlesea, she knew that was it and never looked back. It was her mother, a single parent of two who funded her higher education through loans and annual sacrifices of her bonuses.
Mahebe started working as a stipend teacher in November 2009, earning R3000 per month. She only received her payments in January 2010. That contract ended in March. From then until July, she stayed at home as she could not find work. At every door she knocked on, she was told that the department was not hiring even though it was obvious that some schools needed a commerce educator. She defines that period as her worst ever. It reminded her of how tormented she was at university because of her choice of speciality.
In July that same year, she found out from a neighbour that there was a school in the former Transkei, in the Bhada Circuit that needed a commerce educator. Without hesitation, she started communicating with the school’s management and they agreed for her to come for an interview. Mahebe had never travelled to that village, but she took different taxis, asked around in taxi ranks, and finally after two hours, she arrived. Seeing her passion and dedication, the school management team welcomed her on board. Fresh out of university, she was given a Grade 12 class to teach business economics, a decision that is questionable from all angles. Mahebe worked with the learners until December, when her contract ended.
In January 2011, she was back at home trying to find schools she could assist in, once again all her efforts were in vain. That was her frustration until March when she went back to the school and taught until December, when her contract ended again. Last year, she spent January at home as she was unemployed. This took a toll on her psychologically as her mother had to start paying off the study loans that Mahebe had hoped to pay herself. On top of that, her younger sister had started with her tertiary education, meaning more loans and not a sight of a bonus for her nurse mother.
In February this year, following an announcement she heard on the media that a court case had been won and that the Eastern Cape Department of Education had been instructed to re-employ the temporary teachers, she packed her bags and went back to her class. “I missed my class. My learners had my number and would call me crying saying they needed my help. What was I supposed to do?” she said. Her mother supported the idea of her going back and supported her financially.
Mahebe had a reason to have faith in her abilities. In 2011, she made history in her school and district when her Matric class achieved a 100 percent pass rate in business studies. The district manager awarded her with certificates and gifts for her efforts. One would think that the achievement should have been enough motivation for the district officials to advocate for Mahebe's permanent employment.
That achievement didn’t go unnoticed by the parents who decided to pay her February stipend, with the little that they could come up with. In March, Mahebe move back home as the financial burden had become too much for both the school and her mother.  From March until June, she remained at home working in her church’s programmes and reading up on new learning materials.
Mahebe has been back at school now since June. She is trying to catch up on her work by conducting morning, afternoon and holiday classes.“ I put up with all of this because teaching is my calling. I have the most supportive family, friends and colleagues who always encourage me to go on. So am I going to quit? No, never. I will teach until the day I can’t speak anymore” she said.
Mahebe will once again await her fate in December as her contract will expire.


  1. Thanks for the post, in my interactions with the schools, i have unfortunately found out that even the permanent teachers are struggling. Theirs is that of having lost their dignity in the face of political interferences and changes that come everyday. They talk of the ever changing curriculum, ill disciplined learners and a lack of support from the parents. So, our teachers need to be heard. Hola

    1. Who then stands up for our teachers?

  2. My mother has been teaching since she was 19 years old in the former Transkei. She has been a principal at a school that I went to as well in my primary years, Mthata International School. The story of Mahebe is one that I know intimately because my mother had to fight to keep teachers such as Mahebe in her school because the department would not pay for them to stay on. Principals of schools want for children to pass, teacher’s alike want for children to excel.
    Every holiday I am with my mother at her school where we bring food for the learners for their break times during their winter schools and summer schools. These sessions are organized by the parents, and the different school teachers in the town. Now! that is an effort that I believe shows that everyone is on board, I am just not sure about the Department of Education both Provincially as well as Nationally. These esteemed people who are highly educated frustrate teachers left right and center. It seems to me as though they don't have children in schooling systems and if they do they just don't have empathy, because if they did they would be more meticulous in the way they did things. Oh! I am aware of their antics, my mother rolls in the after-math of their bad timed decisions and willy-nilly whims of those decisions.
    Someone said the other day, "Lets stop talking and start acting". Well! I know for a fact that there is a lot of acting in my mother’s school and many other schools in Mthata with a lot of good results. Look at your Nozuko S.S.S, your St’ Joseph S.S.S. and many more. However the juggernaut that is our Education Department is running at a speed that is unimaginable and in its wake it reaps destruction. How do we halt it? That is my question?

  3. Original Message -----
    From: Trevor Butler
    Sent: Tuesday, November 06, 2012 3:27 PM
    Subject: School Principal's letter to Zuma
    Bergvliet High headmaster Stephen Price. Picture: Candice Chaplin
    A Cape Town’s high school principal’s open letter to South African president Jacob Zuma has gone viral. Here is the text:
    Dear President Zuma
    It’s two years to the day when Gareth Cliff, a local media celebrity, wrote an open letter to you. It caused quite a stir at the time. And as I was thinking about what I was going to say to the Class of 2012 of my school, his letter came to mind. As I re-read it I realised it was about time for another one. Not quite as controversial perhaps but nevertheless another open letter borne out of my desire to see the 200 matrics that we’re about to send you, fulfil their dreams in a positive, dynamic South Africa.
    My name is Stephen Price. I am the Principal of Bergvliet High School here in the Western Cape. Some would describe this school as a ‘former Model C school’... A description generally used to justify why other schools are underperforming. But that is another discussion.
    You see, right now I am addressing close on 1000 teachers, parents and pupils at the Valedictory Service of the Class of 2012 of my school. It is a special occasion, full of excitement and expectation, of joy and sadness, of hope and trepidation, and it will be a day for them to remember. Their last official day of school. I’d like to tell you a little bit about them. But, before I do, consider this.
    For the past 12 years or so every single person in this hall has been working towards this one goal. Their educators, their families and themselves. And in the past 5 years it has been our mission at Bergvliet High to develop in these young people, a revival of respect, a unity of purpose, a spirit of participation and more importantly, a sense of hope. Values we believe that will stand them in good stead in the ‘big wide world’ out there. Values that we should be seeing in the leaders of our country.
    In Gareth’s letter he outlined various suggestions that he believed you needed to pay urgent attention to. Sadly you, and our Government, have not responded with anything resembling leadership and we have lurched from one crisis to another over the past 24 months. I believe that many of Gareth’s suggestions are still valid notwithstanding the crudity of his delivery at times. But I share his deep sense of frustration because, like him, I believe in the future of this country and our youth.

  4. What follows is what my staff and I have taught our 200 matrics at Bergvliet High and I would venture you and our Government could do with a few lessons in this regard. Let me tell you what we have done.
    A Revival of Respect – we have taught these youngsters about our shared heritage, about our country, about each other, about the value of treating others with respect, about being proud of who they are and about loyalty and integrity. But this is what we were up against from you and our Government, our elected leaders – continuing rampant corruption, fraud, self enrichment, misuse of public funds, the appointment of family and supporters regardless of ability, the manipulation of the justice system by convicted criminals - Shaik, Selebi come to mind and finally the massacre at Marikana. You let us down at every turn. You did not care. You lacked leadership. But most importantly you have undermined everything we tried to teach our young charges. Our Government has not, under your leadership, develop a revival of respect. Well, we are sending you 200 young South Africans who know what respect is, who know the value of others, who are proud of where they come from, who are proud of this country and who are loyal, passionate and honest. My request to you is that you show them the respect they deserve. They might be young but they are citizens of this country and they will be our leaders one day. Take them but don’t mess them around. Provide them with opportunity – they will create the jobs you need – we taught them how. Respect them sir. I do.
    A Unity of Purpose - my staff have taught our matrics to work together, to understand that each of them has a different and unique role to play in achieving the common goal, that without a vision people will perish, that if we all pull in different directions we will never achieve anything and that our strength is in the whole not the individual. Again you and our Government have let us down. We have watched in dismay as the unions, the factions within the Government, the personal agenda’s of our elected leaders and influential individuals, have dragged the people of this country further apart, ever deeper into a pit of despair and ever backward and away from the vision that we all bought into in 1994. Why did you do that? Is the Alliance more important than the future of our matrics? Is Mr Malema so important that he can do and say what he wants and, by doing so, undermines any unity of purpose? Is it all ‘just politics’? Is the culture of entitlement that prevails amongst our people and fostered by union, alliance and populist leaders, worth more than the value of hard work?

  5. Again we are sending you 200 young South Africans who know the value of hard work, of having a vision and working towards it and who understand that in order to achieve the vision they have to work side by side, shoulder to shoulder with each other. We are giving you 200 young South African eager to be a part of the solution. Please use every single one of them. I personally recommend them. They won’t let you down. They will work hard. I know.
    A Spirit of Participation – my staff have worked above and beyond the call of duty to provide every opportunity for our children. Clubs, societies, community service, sport, art, music, drama, endurance, debating, quizzes, National Olympiads, culture, recycling, continuing education, incoming and outgoing tours, exposure to exchange students from Germany, USA, Reunion, Canada, Australia, China and the UK, refugees from French speaking Africa and a myriad of extracurricular courses on project management, philosophy, engineering, design, music and art to name but a few. Every one of our students has had equal opportunity to be part of a vibrant 21st century South African school and the benefits have been incredible. Sportsmanship, empathy, understanding, comradeship, connection, health and wellness, competition, talent, strength, intellectual growth, stamina, love of learning, service to others, understanding the needs of others over self, leadership, courage, passion....I could go on and on.
    But what example do you set? Instead of building up, you break down. Lack of school sport structures, bureaucratic interference in performing schools, constant changes to curriculum, lack of text books, lack of community infrastructure and your lip service to policy that outlines wonderful aims and objectives. We couldn’t wait for you to deliver. So we did it ourselves. Our parents got involved, paid their school fees, supported our teachers, gave them benefits that you should have provided and this allowed my staff to give more and more. Do I hear the hadedas shouting ‘former Model C school’ at this point?

  6. Probably....but that’s your fault I’m afraid. You’ve not done enough to raise the level of involvement in education. We witness the collapse of the Eastern Cape Education dept, Limpopo and instead of solutions we have officials avoiding accountability, scurrying for cover and making excuses.
    But here’s a thought. We have just produced 200 hundred young South Africans that are not afraid of rolling up their sleeves and getting involved. We’ve taught then the value of participation. Put them into work programmes.... Helen might be able to help you in this regard...... into learnerships.... we have 6 trainee teachers permanently stationed at our school..... into sport and teaching, into apprenticeships, into corporate South Africa and I can guarantee you things will start to happen. But don’t delay as many of them are looking to opportunities across the ocean and we need them here, you need them here. Tell them you want them to stay. I would.
    And finally Mr President -I’ve always wanted to say that - A Sense of Hope. Hope – not in the sense of wishful thinking, not simply in the sense of a positive attitude, of being optimistic without reason but rather hope in the sense of confident expectation based on a solid foundation. That’s what we’ve given our children at Bergvliet High. We’ve given them something to strive for, to look forward to, a vision, a better life for all....sound familiar? Why then does my DUX scholar, scoring over 90% in all her subjects, not get accepted into UCT or Stellenbosch for medicine? Why are her hopes being dashed? They should be knocking down the door to enrol her. Not your fault I hear you say....nothing to do with you. I’m sorry sir but it has everything to do with you.
    Gareth Cliff said “India and China are churning out new, brilliant, qualified people at a rate that makes us look like losers. South Africa has a proud history of innovation, pioneering and genius. This is the only way we can advance our society and economy beyond merely coping.” She IS one of these people that Gareth is describing…..and, believe it or not, we have 199 more like her. We are giving them all to you. Give them HOPE...because my staff have nurtured, grown and developed this hope in our youngsters. Do everything in your power to make it happen. They are ready and waiting and keen as mustard. Stop focusing on Mangaung. We have 200 matrics that deserve your attention. And they deserve it now….not after Mangaung.
    Thank you for reading this (I hope you do) and I quote Gareth again to end off.
    “We know who we are now, we care about our future – and so should you.”

    Kind regards
    Stephen Price

  7. This was a open letter published by a Cape Town paper. It was wriiten by a prinicpal of a school there. In dealing with the education issue Soso we have to tackle it from all angles hence I posted this letter...

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