School’s out for summer!

By Craig Nudelman

And then it was over! On a Friday afternoon in the middle of November, I held a bag of my possessions and I left Herzlia’s campus as a teacher.

It was a strange feeling. I was really happy that the retrenchment process (which I ironically oversaw, due to my chairmanship of the Teachers’ Union) was over. However, I felt a sense of unease; would I know what to do come Monday, when I would start my new career at the Valenture Institute? Instead of going to school to make the morning staff briefing at 7:45, walking/running to my classes, and having a cup of tea every now and then, I was going to have to keep my own hours and work remotely. It’s interesting how you can become so comfortable in your position and that a shift can be so discombobulating. But I don’t want to speak about change. I actually want to reflect on what it is like to be a teacher/educator/facilitator in the many facets of my life.

Being a teacher is fascinating and should be the subject of a sociological thesis. Most people think that teachers just stand in front of the class lecturing their pupils in the same fashion that they were taught in school or later in university. However, it is so much more than that. Teachers are there to be facilitators. Using the theoretical pedagogical concepts from experts in education, teachers are there to scaffold learning and assist pupils in gaining information themselves. It is no longer ‘chalk and talk’ (although that is necessary from time to time). Rather, teachers allow pupils to learn from each other and use other amazing tools to gain all the information that they can. However, being a teacher comes with issues, whether it is from the way subjects are viewed, the attitude of pupils, and the attitude of parents (which is the most difficult to manage!).

I taught History and Life Skills/Life Orientation. Now History is seen as a key subject; people hold it in high regard. Some think it is a subject where you just memorise dates off by heart, but it is so much more than that. History teaches you critical thinking skills, comprehension, and, more importantly, empathy. When you see what slavery was like, what colonialism created, and how the Holocaust was not just the mass killing of six million Jewish lives, but also a process of dehumanisation of Jews, you start to gain empathy and respect for issues happening in real life.

Life Skills/Life Orientation is not seen as a critical or core subject, and many do not think it is important. This is the view of pupils, who see it as a joke; parents, who don’t know what it is about; and even teachers, who don’t see it as necessary when compared to their more ‘academic’ subjects. Having taught it these past few years, I tend to differ. The skills you learn in the curriculum range from self-awareness and looking at people non-judgmentally to understanding diseases, including STIs. It also looks at governance in South Africa, which is so important to teach to our youth who just don’t give a shit about the country and how its political system works. How can you think that going to Langa to learn about cultural awareness is useless? Do you think work-shadow is unhelpful? Peoples’ mindset about the subject needs to change.

But the most serious issue for me is that teachers are not seen in the light that they deserve. My colleagues at Herzlia work bloody hard. Although school hours may be from 07:45 to 15:00, there is lesson prep, extra murals, marking, report writing, schedule meetings, extra lessons, tutorials, and so much more. Teachers also have private lives, where they have to juggle all of this with looking after their homes, spouses or partners, children, and parents. Yes, there is the benefit of holidays, but they are so well deserved after the stress of the term.

And so, as I leave from one teaching role to another, I have some requests. Be kind and patient — teachers are people too. Respect the teacher’s decisions — they have experience in teaching and the knowledge of how to teach. Tell your children to be courteous to their teachers — the classroom is a place to learn; discipline should not be an issue. Finally, appreciate your children’s teachers — they deserve it!

Good luck for 2021. May it be better than 2020!!

Published in the print edition of the December 2020/January 2021 issue.
Download the Dec/Jan issue PDF here.

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