While completing a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) through the University of Cape Town, you are required to complete two six-week teaching practicals: one at a resourced school and the other at an under-resourced school. Axium has been facilitating teaching practicals at local high schools that we work with for the past nine years.
Craig Paxton, Axium Director commented, “I had a similar experience in my PGCE year with a school in rural KZN, and it launched me on a journey with rural school improvement that continues today. It seemed important for young South African teachers to have exposure into what 50% of our schooling system looks like. My sense is that there are many young teachers who simply need a nudge or an opportunity to move beyond the traditionally privileged schools where many teachers do their pracs. An unexpected benefit has been the pipeline of great people that have come to work with Axium or in our local schools after their experiences here.”
Thabo Malatji and Maria Moselakgomo spent six weeks at a high school near Axium and their reflections offer an interesting insight into rural education through the eyes of new and passionate teachers.
1. Can you share a little bit about why you decided to pursue teaching?
I started teaching or tutoring at high school when I used to help some of my friends in mathematics. When I got to varsity, I joined a few other tutoring organisations and enjoyed being in the classroom with students and learning. I soon realised that I have a real passion for it. Thus, when I finished my Undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering I decided to do a PGCE. At times I go back home and see the friends I grew up with. I see what they have become and how the circumstances haven’t been favourable to them. I then think about what could have happened differently if they had been afforded a good teacher who believed in them and wanted success for their lives. I remember my grade 11 Maths teacher was that person. I want to be that teacher.
I have always been involved in various activities such as peer teaching, tutoring and mentoring from when I was in high school. I had never really considered becoming a teacher but everything changed when I was tutoring during the university holidays and witnessed the ‘unprofessionalism’ of some teachers. I felt that the world would be a better place if we had more good, professional, teachers. I was doing my undergraduate studies at the time in Mathematics and I told myself that I am going to redirect my career towards teaching.
2. Why did you decide to do your teaching practical in the rural Eastern Cape?
I am currently doing my internship this year and did my first teaching practical at a well resourced school in Cape Town. The diversity in that school tells a story and it is really great teaching there. In my eyes, it seems like a perfect school in this progressive South Africa. I thought that if I really want to know and understand my role in the context of this country, I needed to experience both extremes of South African schooling. That’s why I decided on the rural Eastern Cape for my second practical.
Ever since I decided to pursue a career in teaching, my aim has been to teach in a rural area; hence I immediately jumped into the opportunity of doing my second teaching practice in the Eastern Cape. I wanted to have experience teaching in a rural area so that I would be able to determine if it is really possible to make a positive impact in the lives of the learners in these areas.
4. What were some of the contrasts between this practical and your first practical?
The most obvious difference was the discrepancy in resources. At my first school, I taught from an Ipad and projector whereas here, I taught on black boards with chalk and a duster (if you are lucky enough to find one). One of the biggest challenges I experienced was maintaining consistency with my teaching. There were so many disruptions that took teaching time away and as a consequence it brought anxieties about whether I would finish the syllabus in time. I remember in three consecutive days’ half of the day was taken away for sports practice.
There were many positives on the other hand. I think because I was working with a small staff team in a relatively small school, I found my colleagues more inviting and welcoming during my rural prac. I also found the connections I made with the students in Eastern Cape more meaningful and relatable than in Cape Town. I enjoyed having debates with students in class - each student giving their own opinion. Knowing that I created a space conducive to having great conversations with young bright minds made me feel so proud.
The fact that there is a lack of technological resources in rural schools is the first difficulty that I encountered - even though I was expecting it. But one thing I did not expect was that the school had so few classrooms. When the grade 12s write their exams the whole school grinds to a halt, with no rooms available for the other students to learn. (In grade 12, the learners spend approximately nine weeks writing exams throughout the year: this means nine weeks of lost teaching time for the rest of the school!) The other thing that challenged me is that I found that most learners at the school, understandably, lacked motivation. With the added challenges they face at school, I found they had an overwhelmingly negative perspective on their schooling and what the purpose of it all was. I found this particularly hard to deal with.
5. Is there anything you will carry with you from this teaching practical into your future classrooms?
The bond I made with the grade 8s is one that will stay with me a really long time. It was as if I was learning to be a better teacher and they wanted to be there every step of the way. The advice and reflections I had with my Axium supervisors and mentors will forever be in my mind whenever I plan and execute lessons in the future. Techniques like ‘turn-and-talk’, drills and much more will definitely come in handy in the future. Values like 'positive re-framing', 'motivating learners' and 'positive reinforcement' will undoubtedly help me to be the best teacher I can be.
Zithulele is a very small community that is very welcoming. At the school, the teachers are open and friendly. I found it easier to connect with everyone compared to my first teaching practical. The level of respect I received from both learners and teachers was absolutely amazing.
7. Do you feel like you grew as a teacher over the past six weeks?
Absolutely! I think the biggest lesson I learned was how to be a versatile teacher. I learnt how to teach with just chalk and the black board. Even when totally disconnected from technology meaningful teaching can still take place. I learnt how to be inventive, using the least resources as possible and still motivating the learners to learn. I learnt how to use other languages to better explain something that I could not convey in English. I learnt how the South African Education system is still frail and limping and that a lot of work needs to be done to begin fixing it. I think I’ve gained a different outlook on life and my journey into the South African Education system. I have a better idea of where I belong and where my services are going to be most appreciated. Even more, it revived the initial reason why I went into education and gave me a clearer vision of the role that I have to play.
I would say that I have grown drastically simply because I was exposed to many teacher responsibilities which I was not exposed to during my first teaching practical. Responsibilities such as administration, setting and assessing learners’ tasks, and assisting in non-academic activities. I also felt that I was learning new things that would be very useful in the future, especially from my Axium supervisor and mentor teachers. We had reflective meetings every week which I found very helpful. After all the experience and learning I can confidently say I will be the best teacher I can be to our South African youth. I would totally recommend this rural teaching practice for future student teachers.