Teach them well and let them lead the way
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Teach them well and let them lead the way

On this week's episode, Terence Pillay shines a light on some bad apples in the teaching profession that’s giving everyone a bad name.

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The Department of Education is once again offering The Funza Lushaka Bursary Programme, which is a multi-year programme to promote teaching as a profession. Bursaries are available to enable eligible students to complete a teaching qualification in an area of national priority.

The government is on a drive to try and get teachers to enter the teaching profession – especially in subjects like mother tongue or home language at the foundation phase and Maths and Science.

I remember when teaching was once considered a noble profession. It was more than just a job – it was a calling, but I think that the teaching profession has had some really bad press of late. There are problems of teachers not pitching up at school, them running other businesses out of their classrooms, there’s absenteeism, incidents of teachers raping and abusing children, incidents of teachers being racist and generally negative reports.

So what does this do to inspire the future generation of teachers? The kind of person that wants to go into teaching is now having second thoughts, asking themselves: why should I go into a profession where that’s probably what I’m going to put up with? It’s this kind of abuse, a lack of respect, a lack of recognition by the people, the parents and the State that people think about before entering the profession now. 

But the fact is that out of the four hundred thousand teachers that South Africa employs, which incidentally is the largest single employer in the country, we get a lot of reports of a lot of teachers who are bad apples but the majority of the four hundred thousand are hard working, dedicated teachers and you don’t hear about them.

So you can go to any school, and I dare anyone to get in their car and go to their nearest school, and even though there might be one or two bad apples there, you will find the majority will be really good, hard-working people who care about children and who care about the future.

The Department of Education has its challenges – it’s got capacity issues itself and there are some really good people in the department who are working really hard but there also appears to be lots of shady or dodgy ones too. And to be fair, this is based only on the emails and calls I get to investigate matters arising from something having gone wrong in the department. They are under a lot of administrative pressure because it’s an administratively onerous system, compliance-driven, filling in thousands of forms and documents so they don’t get to focus on the core business of the school and the core business of the department of education, which should be about encouraging and promoting quality teaching and learning.

The fact that some teachers are running businesses from their classrooms is totally unacceptable. They should focus on their task –they get paid to do a particular job and that’s what they should do. If you’re unhappy in that job and you feel that you’re underpaid, you should take it up with your union or quit and go and find another job that you think you are competent to do or go and run that business. We need businesses in this country – businesses are employers.

What we don’t need are people who are gainfully employed, who are already resourced by being a teacher, who has a qualification and has some kind of experience, who is then running a business from their classroom when they could be creating employment. Rather go and run your business and let somebody else teach, because we actually need to sort out the unemployment issue in this country.

Read: Harsher sentences for school vandals

In any case, it’s illegal, in terms of your employment contract with the department of education – you cannot have a second job. If you have a job, you have to declare it and it has to not be in conflict with your main responsibility, which is to teach. You also cannot use the school’s resources or their time to do your secondary job.

In a discussion on this subject with some friends the other day, someone asked why the school governing bodies don’t intervene on these matters. I think you need to consider the skills sets on these governing bodies. Usually, it’s represented by the principal, management of the school, teachers, there’s a learner representative and then there are parent representatives. These members are elected and should be there to act as a watchdog, but let’s say you have a school governing body where the principal and teachers are performing poorly and running businesses from their classrooms – now you have the parent and learner as the other representatives on the body who have to take on those errant teachers. The school governing body should intervene but if the other representatives are complicit, and they are the ones with the power on that governing body, then how can you expect any change?

Let’s say that a parent is from a rural school or not that well versed in the law and things like that, it’s difficult for them to challenge that power that comes from a principal or teacher, who they usually look up to when they are the ones perpetrating the infringement.

And we need to look at the moral and ethical choices that we make. If you were to ask that teacher, in all fairness, he would probably say that he doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong – and this comes down to having a faulty moral compass. They say: “I’m a teacher, earning this really terrible salary, I need to supplement my income.” People do it all the time.

The other thing I’ve found is that many teachers are running extra classes at schools. For example, I know of a Maths teacher that charges a fortune for extra tuition after school. This is completely acceptable but she’s so slack in the class because she knows parents pay for this extra help outside class time. This teacher shouldn’t be allowed to operate; and especially not to the children she’s teaching from Monday to Friday.

If she says to you as the parent: “Your child is struggling, I recommend that she gets some extra lessons, here is a list of credible tutors that you could use” this would be acceptable. But it’s a conflict of interest and a perverse incentive for a teacher to be offering extra lessons to the children that they teach Monday to Friday. The only time the teacher should be allowed to offer extra lessons is if she says: “Every Wednesday afternoon, those kids that are struggling are invited to extra lessons at no charge. I will be there to help with those extra lessons for forty- five minutes or an hour.” Besides, a good teacher should be giving extra time to struggling learners and not offering it as a business. 

Also, if an entire class is signing up for extra Maths lessons, what makes you think that this teacher who can’t teach during normal teaching time will be able to do that because it’s after hours or because it’s extra time? If the class is overcrowded and she feels like more individual attention will assist the child but in the course of normal teaching she has to stick to the curriculum and specifically teach to the middle because you have to teach to the average learner, they can organise a special session or differentiate their teaching.

So obviously this doesn’t seem as terrible as a teacher running an estate agency from their classroom or a taxi company that’s benefiting from learner transport contracts or a teacher running a catering business that benefits from the nutrition programme, it should also be looked at because it’s wrong.

There have been lots of interesting debates recently around the quality of teaching as well as professional standards for teachers and I think we need to have those conversations. We need to change the public discourse and the perception of teaching. Ultimately, we want a future generation of teachers that are going to be the best possible teachers for our country and so we need to hold them to a higher standard. This means we need to recruit the best people into the profession and we need to treat them as professionals. 

You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and tweet him your thoughts.

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