Graduates from training colleges often enter the profession of teaching without knowing what to expect and how to deal with the day-to-day challenges and responsibilities of being a teacher. This fact made me sit up and investigate exactly what it takes to be a good educator.
Keep up with the new changes
Firstly, teachers must be aware of changing technology and try to keep up with it — a frustrating process if you are not open-minded. There is a new maxim: “Technology won’t replace teachers, but instead teachers who use technology will replace those who don’t use it”. It is fundamental to move away from the traditional ways of delivering content to learners. Teachers should keep in mind that they are producing global citizens who must be equipped with relevant skills so that they can survive and thrive in the fast-paced 21st Century.
No one size fits all
In this profession we deal with different learners coming from all walks of life and backgrounds. These are some of the realities that teachers need to learn and acknowledge. This calls for a move away from a “one size fits all” approach to teaching. Learners differ vastly; for instance, some head up their families and take care of their siblings; some come to school on empty stomachs. It is our responsibility, as teachers, to inspire them to be agents of change and masters of their own situations and destinies. Our teaching should be inclusive of all learners in our classrooms.
It is really tough to teach learners who are uninspired and who have already given up on life. Therefore, teachers should by all means avoid labelling learners, because labels are powerful tools that can break or build a learner. It is a hard reality for teachers — how we treat our learners will either build or break their spirit.
Build and not break
Teachers spend hours preparing for their lessons and this involves sacrificing some of their family time. Most teachers are familiar with working overtime, preparing lessons and assessing learners on the content we taught. After marking scripts, books or assignments teachers need to provide learners with informed feedback.
Our feedback needs to be constructive at all times. You cannot, for example, use words such as “nonsense” or “stupid” when speaking to a learner. This is labelling, and can be very dangerous and negative. Don’t be the reason why a learner drops out of school.
Teach to inspire
Teachers are expected to teach learners, but often we are thrown into the deep end with lack of support. However, it doesn’t help us to blame the system and the government for things that are not going well in our schools. Rather, teachers need to find creative ways to teach and inspire change.
In some instances teachers are confronted with overcrowded classrooms and lack of resources. What will distinguish you from other teachers is making sure that you nevertheless provide quality education to learners, and then let your results speak for you. If the school has no resources, the results may go a long way in helping to attract potential sponsors.
Go the extra mile
The realities of being teachers should be made known to graduates; sometimes things will be tough out there. In some schools all the resources are available. In others, you will be required to improvise or dig into your pockets because of the lack of resources. For instance, if you want to have visual aids in your classroom but your school has no funds available, you can make your own charts or buy your own overhead projector. This is known as “going the extra mile”.
Teachers should also remember that they are mentors to their learners, role models and parents. This means even outside the school they need to carry themselves in an exemplary manner and respect the title of being teachers. We often say people do not respect the profession, but how can people respect our profession if we do not respect it ourselves?
This brings me to the last reality of being a teacher: criticism will always come, from all corners. What will make us better is to prove that we are indeed changing the world, and this is done one lesson at a time. We can teach and inspire learners to be better people and compete on a global scale, to be job creators instead of job seekers, and thus take South Africa to greater heights.
Finally, even though we are working under trying conditions, the motto we should always maintain is “teach, care and inspire”. Always tell yourself: “I care, that’s why I teach.”
Mlungisi Magagula teaches at Kwazamokuhle Secondary School in Hendrina, Mpumalanga. He is also studying towards a B.Ed degree at Wits and is a part-time student at Unisa.