In two weeks' time, I come to the end of a decade of teaching. It has been a great joy and also a journey about 3 years too long.
As the daughter of an English teacher, the career held no appeal to me, even though I love the language, am an avid reader and majored in English at the University of the Witwatersrand!
Ain’t life funny though! (yes, English teachers may use ‘ain’t’ to be ironic) Funny that I should find myself almost accidentally thrown into the job at the age of 37. Although I had taught adults in other settings, it was a joy to discover within myself the ability to impart concepts to young minds.
And what a wonderful journey it has been! I have been so privileged in so many ways. Firstly to teach at a very special school: Woodland School, which is unique in so many ways as a small, countryside, private school. I enjoyed great freedom to set curriculum and make literature choices. Creativity is so important to me and I spent hours preparing lessons in the early days. It was also here that I became sold on private schools for one simple reason: small classes. Before, I had shunned the elitism of private schools, vowing my children would go to government schools. Yet when I saw the benefits of the teaching and assistance that goes into a small class, the room for discussion and expressing of opinions, I changed my mind – and we have literally put ourselves into debt subsequently, to send our kids to private schools.
Two years ago I spent two terms in a government high school, so I know what it’s like to teach a class of 30 and the tremendous enforcing of discipline and pace of teaching required to keep the attention of 30 children; the huge marking burden, as well as the additional administrative burden. I salute everyone who does it: You are not paid enough!
I have also had the immense privilege of teaching my own children from grades 4 through 7. Seeing them in the classroom and with their friends, and even in the lower grades, sneaking hugs between lessons has been a treasure. It has also been a challenge, as at times my children have felt I was unfairly strict in class with them – my attempt to never favour them above other pupils – was perhaps at times misplaced.
I have had the camaraderie and support of so many wonderful colleagues over the years as well as working for heads who ran the school as a family. We all went out of our way all the time to make the school succeed and we did it with love and laughter. Thank you to you all – you know who you are!
|Kids wore civvies and we wore uniforms!|
I have learned many things in my journey – too many to share here – for my fellow teachers, simply a reminder to walk the fine line between high expectations and great compassion. For parents – put in the hours and hours to READ with your young child and make it as enjoyable as you can! For those who are both parents and teachers: don't let your child be the last straw after a day of keeping your irritation and annoyance contained!
My journey, however, was probably three years too long. There’s the wonderful concept of a ‘sabbatical’, meaning: “a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked.” I don’t know what it is about the number 7, but for me, it is certainly true that 7 years in one space is enough. I did in fact leave at the 7 year mark – then stood in for someone on maternity leave, then stood in for 2 terms at a high school – and perhaps that offered me the breather to do 2 more years back at Woodland. But boredom, complacency and fatigue are horrible factors which creep in and affect our ability to work at our best. (For this reason, I loved the opportunity to teach Maths for a year.)
I would highly recommend a change or a break to everyone, no matter what career you are in. However, I cannot stress this enough: Teaching is an exceptionally demanding career. It is like being on stage for 6 hours straight every day. There is no time for other thoughts, personal admin or allowing your mind to drift. It is utterly exhausting. Let me just add in the strongest possible terms – it is not a half day job! At minimum you are at school for 7 hours, with no lunch hour, then when you get home you will have marking and preparation of on average an additional 1-3 hours. And let me say it again: You are not paid enough!
So, I am incredibly grateful for the last 10 years. I am also incredibly grateful to be ending and moving on to managing my guest houses full-time (a load I’ve been carrying additionally these last 4 years). I must say a big thank you to my Woodland colleagues who have allowed me to reduce my teaching days this last year in order to give more time to my guest house business. They have kindly picked up the slack in a less than ideal situation.
My days are now increasingly quieter and less people-intensive, although still very full. And I now face the challenge with a child about to start grade 6, of us both adjusting to my not being at school with him. I have learnt this week, after finding myself behind on returning a form and payment, that I must ask, “Was there anything announced or sent home that I need to know about?” May the next 7 years be just as full of learning about life!
|My grade 8s at Bekker High|