The epitome of teaching
Hey, teacher! Don’t leave us kids alone!
The imagery of school life is rich. Chalk squealing across a blackboard. Lunches shared in tightly woven friendship circles. Uniforms and bobby socks. Hair like signposts, oiled, pert and ribboned. First love. Hearts fluttering, then squeezed, then broken. Looking out of rain-streaked windowpanes, passively listening, actively dreaming. Shiny apples and teachers’ pets. Rivalries. Competition. Head girl and head boy. Heroes and villains. Popular kid or obscure freak.
So much growing up and living in between the trio of sirens signalling the start, the break and then the end of each day. Choices. Subjects. Hate Maths! Love English! Stand out. Make a stand. From a high school perspective school dragged by, but as an adult now, I’m still nursing whiplash from how fast it flew by. So many forks in the road, so many options … so confusing and overwhelming.
KwaZulu-Natal’s Lenarea Secondary School, in unit 13 Phoenix, with its red face-brick welcomed me each morning as I walked across its threshold in white uniform and black-and-grey tie. It was the gymnasium for my young and passionate mind, which was thirsty for resonance and influence. Teachers sometimes look without seeing, but I was lucky that there were a few — especially one — who recognised my light and strived to create spaces for it to fully shine.
My history teacher Mr AS Vahed translated my love for history into opportunities to gather with groups of like-minded pupils from other schools, insisting that despite my financial constraints I would get into the camps and excursions that showed me a world beyond the stifling, bright green foliage of my township. For the first time we managed to peek behind apartheid’s façade and meet students from other schools, students who told stories of their hardships and their thirst for political change.
Mr Vahed perhaps didn’t realise it at the time, but those meetings and exchanges expanded my mental and philosophical boundaries and re-imbued me with a sense of social justice. He epitomises for me what it means to be a teacher. Coming home after school to take tea with my mother, ever concerned that I should not fall victim to a system that deferred dreams and stifled potential.
I’m grateful for his intervention, and others at my school, like Messrs PD Baichan, DP Pillay and CCL Naidoo: teachers who, with no prospect of reward except satisfaction, went above and beyond the call of duty. To those who are entrusted with the holy task of instruction and guidance, I hope you realise the life-changing role you play in not just illuminating minds, but in altering history. I salute you!