Why most teachers don’t give up, and why we shouldn’t give up on them either.
iden*, the learner from the high school near Lotus River, is correct in saying that teachers are stressed. The Department of Education’s Educator Health Study of 2016 revealed that half of teachers say they experience job-related stress53. Luckily, more than 70% said they are healthy and don’t suffer from emotional or mental health issues.
The study which surveyed 21 495 public school teachers, further reported good teacher morale, with most educators saying teaching was their first career choice and that they have no plans to leave the profession. Those who were considering a career change, said they are paid too little to face so many demands (especially the high number of learners in classes).
If the teachers we interviewed were given the chance to restart their careers, would they still become teachers?
Richard* from the rural primary school in the Eastern Cape replied: “No, not at all. There is a lot of pressure on me as principal, and the behaviour of the learners and teachers and parents makes it even more difficult. When I sit with my own children at home, I tell them never to choose this career. Teaching used to be a noble profession. We used to say being a teacher is a calling, but today nobody cares about the profession.”
Jillian*, the primary school teacher from Pietermaritzburg couldn’t answer with certainty: “Right now, the way things are, it feels like a double-edged sword. I am encountering more and more people who say, ‘the minute I turn 55, I’m out of here’.”
For others, there’s a great sense of pride, even love, for their work. Ntontela of Zangqolwane Secondary School responded: “My job is very difficult and yet I still love it… At the end of the day, I would still be a teacher and a principal. You know, I have learners who are now lawyers and doctors because of me. They come to visit me, years later!”
Babalwa* from Mbekweni believes teaching is a profession about legacy: “I would definitely be a teacher again. I came from this community and I struggled and succeeded to become a teacher. I understand my community and I am now contributing. It has been rewarding. Even my son became a teacher, inspired by me. He loves it.”
The editors of the book on the politics and governance of basic education54 argue that a shift from ‘schooling’ to ‘learning’ is required; one that would move us beyond just fretting about systems and processes towards a vision which brings to centre stage the idea of broad participation and agency.
Says Brian Levy, one of the editors of the book on his personal blog: “The Millennium Development Goal of ‘education for all’, of getting children into schools, was one which aligned well with a top-down, process-compliance-oriented view… but this approach is insufficient to achieve major gains in learning outcomes.
“What is called for is a vision of proactive engagement – a vision, one might say, not simply of ‘education for all’, but of ‘all for education’.”55
“My job is very difficult and yet I still love it… At the end of the day, I would still be a teacher and a principal. You know, I have learners who are now lawyers and doctors because of me. They come to visit me, years later!”
Teachers who sew together the fabric of our society sow the seeds of a more prosperous nation at the same time.