Day 18: Worthwhile

“Is it worth it?”

When I worked at the street school in South Africa, I was often asked this question. The reason I worked there was not for the money: I was paid less than those working in both private and government schools. The resources I had were minimal: a piece of chalk, a blackboard, and access to one photocopying machine. My answer, however, was always the same.

“Yes.”

While working at Qhakaza, I felt that I was making a difference in the lives of the children I worked with. I could not change their socio-economic situation nor the environment they lived in. I could help them improve their English and, hopefully, help them get a school leaving certificate. While they were with me, I could help them expand their thoughts through debates as well as expose them to different literary genres. It was definitely worth it to see the smiles on their faces when they connected with Shakespeare or a poem that we explored. It was definitely worth it as I saw them grow in confidence during the many debates and class discussions that we had.

My experience at this school did not only benefit the children that I worked with. I also benefited from it. I blossomed as a teacher: I was allowed to take initiative in my programming and in what I wished to do with the students both during class time and after school. I thrived within the walls of the old factory building. When the school had to close down, I was sad to leave it as I knew that I would not have the freedom to grow as a teacher and individual in a more bureacratic environment.

photo (52)© Colline Kook-Chun, 2015

(This post was written for the FMF 31 day challenge hosted by Kate Motaung. Today’s prompt: worth)

Missed a post? Click here to read all my memoirs for the series titled Blackboard Scribbles.

Day 4: Embracing My Calling

It did not take long for me to embrace the experience I had been led to. I adapted to my environment and learned to use the tools available to me: the blackboard, a box of chalk and the photocopying machine. No textbooks were on hand so I bought a copy of texts that were available in the bookstore and used them as a springboard for creating my own worksheets. The newspaper and magazines were perfect resources for comprehensions; old external exams were a guide to the type of questions I prepared my students to answer; the news was a starting point for so many debates and unprepared speeches.

I slowly became used to the many names I had not heard of before. I remember vividly a boy whose name I could not say – Mpumelelo. We all laughed at my attempt at pronouncing his given name. He made a concession for me: he chose a name he liked and said I could call him Luke. I taught him for three years and, even when I could pronounce his Zulu name, he requested that I continue to call him by the English name he had chosen.

As I welcomed Qhakaza and the students that attended the school into my life, I thrived. The owner of the school encouraged me to take initiative and gave me free reign on running my classes. My involvement with the children extended into after school hours: I would take them to experience their first live theatre; I would work with them in their preparations for a year end concert; I would spend Saturday mornings helping them to prepare for their grade 12 final exam.

I embraced Qhakaza; and the students of Qhakaza embraced me. The 9 years I spent at the school helped me to grow as a teacher; and satisfied my desire to help children who were in need.

photo (52)© Colline Kook-Chun, 2015

(This post was written for the FMF 31 day challenge hosted by Kate Motaung. Today’s prompt: embrace)

Missed a post? Click here to read all my memoirs for the series titled Blackboard Scribbles.

Day 3: Captured Interest

I remember clearly teaching my first lesson as a qualified teacher.

The community school (Qhakaza  Secondary School) was housed in a coverted factory building that had been coverted into classrooms. Chemical toilets had been brought in for the students use and the walls had been painted black and white (the lower half black, the upper half white). The ground floor rooms had small, dust-covered windows while the basement had no natural light.

On my first teaching day, I descended the stairs to the basement with trepidation. I was a brand new 23 year old teacher who had had very little contact with people of other races. I was a child of Apartheid who was stepping into an unknown experience. I walked into the neon-lightened, airless room of my grade 12 class. A sea of fifty faces watched as I entered. I walked up to the front and began my first lesson: reading and answering a comprehension. After a while I got used to the intent faces watching me, listening in silence. The students were crowded around rectangular desks and many of them were older than they should have been. Their experience of learning had been erractic for a few years and they all dreamed of obtaining their school leaving certificate. They hoped I would help them achieve it.

As days became weeks, I managed to capture and hold the interest of my students. And they captured my interest too with their tales of their own life experiences. I learned of senseless rioting from the mouths of those who suffered from it. I heard stories of people being thrown off trains as part of the political violence that was erupting in South Africa at that time. My heart ached for the children who had lost their innocence so early and who experienced such a brutal side of people.

photo (52)© Colline Kook-Chun, 2015

(This post was written for the FMF 31 day challenge hosted by Kate Motaung. Today’s prompt: capture)

Missed a post? Click here to read all my memoirs for the series titled Blackboard Scribbles.