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.