Charnelle Nicole Hector believes teaching is not about how much you know; it’s about how much you care
Happy birthday to a teacher who has gone the extra mile to ensure that I make it to grade 12. If it were not for your encouragement, stern talks, tutoring and check-ins, I would not be where I am. You are my superhero!”
This heart warming message was sent to me by a former grade seven learner on my birthday and it pretty much sums up WHY I do what I do. You see, while Superman, Batman and Spiderman receive all the credit for being superheroes, in our hearts we know that the real heroes don’t wear capes — they teach.
I am in my sixth year of teaching and I’m savouring every single moment of this journey. I teach in an area with a kaleidoscope of overwhelming social issues such as poverty, abuse and gangsterism. I made a conscious decision to be a walk-in solution to my kids’ problems, and ensure I utilise whatever resources I have access to. Yes, I call my learners “my kids” because in our year together they aren’t just names on my class list — they are part of my heart — and our relationship extends way beyond grade seven. It’s a long-term investment, because I am the kind of teacher who checks up on her learners long after they’ve left primary school.
I have learnt that learners don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. So I have made it my mission to be their care champion. #iwishmyteacherknew is a box I have created in my classroom to gain insight into my learners’ lives. All they have to do is write down whatever challenges they are afraid to speak about but need help with. I have received so many SOS distress signals. Here are some of them:
• I wish my teacher knew that I don’t have colouring pencils to complete my tasks;
• I wish my teacher knew that my cousin was shot and killed, and I can’t stop crying;
• I wish my teacher knew that I don’t have lunch; and
• I wish my teacher knew that I don’t have school shoes!
I would have to swallow hard, wipe away my tears sometimes and whip out my invisible cape. Various projects branched out as a result of this box and one is about school shoes, one of the most common problems for South African learners. Project Sole Mates started out with me buying a few pairs of shoes for the kids in my class, but my friends and Facebook friends soon joined in, and now many of our learners and children in the community have received school shoes.
Putting an “S” on my chest
To paraphrase US radio personality Garrison Keillor: “Nothing you do for children is ever wasted.” I couldn’t agree more. I put the meaning of their names on their desks and their photographs on the wall so that they feel they belong, because they do! I believe in a powerful concept called “The Beauty of Difference”. My learners come from all walks of life and they learn differently, too. I try to cater for all their learning styles as creatively as possible. When I am faced with a plethora of learning barriers, I put an “S” (for Superman) on my chest and try my best through various intervention strategies to help my learners.
I see my classroom as a greenhouse where tender little plants are nurtured. Plants grow quicker, are more wholesome and do better when placed outside. I want to create an environment for my kids to flourish in, especially when they leave. Is it always about gold stars and happy endings? Certainly not. Two of our former learners were shot and killed recently, and it left us all in anguish. Along with all my colleagues I will, however, continue to throw myself into this career to give my kids the means to overcome their disadvantages. This is what I have been called to do. I’m in the life-changing business.
Hector was a finalist in the Excellence in Primary School Teaching category of the 2015 National Teaching Awards. She teaches at Belmor Primary School