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The teacher as a social activist

Radebe contends that teaching is not just about producing 'A' learners but is more about the quality of passes. Photo: Supplied.

Gugulethu Radebe believes her responsibility to her learners extends beyond the classroom

In the two years I have had the privilege of being a class teacher, I have learnt a number of lessons that have changed my view of the world forever. One of these lessons was the power of education to equalise. Education reformer Horace Mann said: “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the greatest equaliser.”

Hidden curriculum
The reality of teaching is that, though we are paid to deliver the curriculum to learners, we have a hidden curriculum that determines whether we have succeeded in our jobs or not. It is not how many students who get an A you produce that determines your worth as a teacher, but the quality of the learners who pass through your hands.
Often, our view of the world and our attitude towards our work and our learners lives on in our learners far longer than we think, and shapes generations long after we have died. This realisation leads to many questions, one of which is: “Am I educating my learners to flourish as individuals, or am I feeding them what CAPS or IEB demands and nothing else?”
Being intentional
Are we being intentional in trying to produce a country of leaders or are we hoping that somebody, somewhere will make the boys and girls in front of us see themselves for who they truly can be? We educate more or less 30 individuals who all have individual dreams, goals, and life experiences. We are teaching more or less 30 personalities who learn differently and respond to the world differently. Are we being intentional in getting to know the people in front of us daily, or do we just deliver information and leave?

Producing leaders not followers
Do we take a moment to think about why we chose the career we chose? Are we being intentional in fulfilling the goals we have for ourselves and for our learners? The world needs teachers who want to produce human beings, not clones or walking encyclopedias. The world needs teachers who talk about the issues that matter, such as the current racial tensions around the globe, and finding solutions, — not teachers who hear it, see it and hope it will fix itself.
The world needs teachers who recognise that many learners may be marginalised because of their race, gender or sexual orientation, and who are willing to make them feel safe and accepted in their classroom environment. The world needs teachers who will stand up for their learners despite their socioeconomic differences and the struggles they are reminded of on a daily basis. We have a responsibility to want change that is so radical that it forces the curriculum to create leaders, not workers and followers. We have to stand so firmly for change that it becomes difficult for anyone in education to be complacent and mediocre.

Channeling learners along the right path
Often we blame society, media and “bad company” for denying learners the chance to attain their bright futures and full potential. But how often do we take time to look back at ourselves and make a decision to counteract all the negativity that our learners are surrounded by? How often do we teach compassion and empathy in history instead of teaching the Holocaust and Rwanda genocide as numbers and figures? How often do we read stories of hate crimes and senseless violence and actually address them with our learners? We have the opportunity, as teachers, to channel our learners along the paths of innovation, compassion and leadership, but like any opportunity, it comes and goes if we do not take advantage of it.

Are we doing enough to build leaders?
Never underestimate the power of a teacher with passion and better yet, never underestimate a child who is surrounded by teachers who love them as individuals, despite their bad decisions and past mistakes. We can teach our learners that they are special, that they have potential and that they are destined for greatness, even if they don’t see it in themselves.
We are often told that we are helping to build the future of South Africa but the question remains, are we doing the work required to build this future? Leaders aren’t the learners who remember and regurgitate information; leaders are the children who know they can make a difference. Be the teacher who creates these leaders.
Gugulethu Radebe is an intern at the Diocesan School for Girls in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape

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