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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On being let down by a strong, black woman


The last time I wrote a post was more than a month ago. I was in the throes of exams and trying to keep up with the mountain of exam marking. When I could finally breathe and the holiday began, my mother had a stroke a few days after my long-awaited holiday began.

A stroke isn't something that can be planned. But it feels like my mother chose the perfect time to have her stroke. My sisters and I had planned to take some time off and be home during July so when the stroke happened, we had all been preparing ourselves to come home anyway. I always have to prepare myself for going home: mentally and emotionally. Over the years, home has become an emotional desert. 

The stroke happened on Wednesday morning. Mama called me and she didn't sound like herself. My initial thought was that she had been crying. But seeing as I can count the number of times I’ve seen her cry, I immediately dismissed that thought. She told me she wasn’t well, but assured me she had everything under control. She said she would go and see a doctor. My mother never single-handedly chooses to see a doctor. She has to be coerced or in a diabetic coma for four days before she concedes that something is wrong with her. So when she said she was going to the doctor, I thought: maybe this is serious. But being my mother’s daughter, I also knew that my mother also cried wolf before so I decided to disengage and allow her to take care of herself. My 9 year old nephew was visiting her and she assured me she would be fine with the nephew around. So after I spoke to her I rolled over in my bed and carried on sleeping, enjoying the fact that I had nothing planned for the day except for a few errands that weren’t really urgent.

Later I got a message from my cousin saying she had seen my mom and something was amiss. Still, nothing moved me. My mother is a strong, black woman. Capable. This couldn’t be too serious. She called me later telling me she’d been to the doctor, got “i-treatment” (medication) and the doctor assured her that the stroke had passed her by, leaving a little damage; she was a bit wobbly but she assured me she would be fine.

Thursday morning and I get a call from my aunt who never calls me. She tells me mama had fallen over during the night and had lost feeling in the left side of her body. She asked me the dreaded question: ubuya nini? (when are you coming home?) I had planned to visit mama during the last week of my holiday. The first two weeks would be mine to do the things I wanted to do. But my aunt demanded an answer: when are you coming home? I think I lied to her and said I would make a plan. My sisters and I began to make plans via whatsapp and it was decided that the eldest would find a flight on Thursday; but later we discovered flights were full so she would be home Friday morning. By the end of the day on Thursday I had been convinced by other people that I too should abandon my plans and go home. I didn’t want to go home.

Memories of giving up time, emotions and money in order for mama to be happy came flooding back to me. A few years ago mama showed symptoms of having diabetes. My sisters and I noticed in October but mama refused to acknowledge this. I came home for the December vac and she was emaciated and drinking lots of water. Within a few days she had lost her appetite and she no longer had energy to get out of bed. She began vomiting and before long she was dragged out of the house, almost unconscious, taken to the hospital and into a coma for four days.

The diabetic coma was a culmination of the dysfunction in my family, especially when it came to my mother. The dysfunctional nature of our family life has a long history of subtle signs throughout my childhood and adolescence. Ours has never been a normal family By the time I left for varsity, I had decided my mother has bipolar and she existed on a different reality than the one I lived within. But because she didn’t believe in doctors, that was just my conjecture based on some reading and efforts of putting together the pieces of the stories she told me. The pieces never came together.

I didn’t want to go home because I didn’t want to deal with my mother’s drama. The stroke could have been avoided but my mother didn’t look after herself even though she understood she had diabetes which needed prolonged treatment. But I conceded and went home in spite of my plans of having a peaceful holiday. When my sisters and I arrived in East London Friday evening my mother was in a pitiful state. The next day my sisters admitted her into the hospital and her road to recovery began.

As I write this, she’s been in hospital for more than a week receiving care and physio to help her along. Because she’s my mother, she’s also been drinking concoctions from a famous medicine man who makes a herbal concoction to drive away the effects of a stroke. A miracle man. I decided against visiting her in hospital today. I didn’t take any of her calls as I usually do because I am tired. Physically and emotionally spent by yet another episode of drama.

My sisters and I have been packing up her house as she can no longer live alone. I have been sorting through boxes and shelves of clothing discovering pictures and letters from my mother’s former life as a teacher and devout church lady. In the past twenty years, I have watched my mother disintegrate into a shadow of herself, relying on pictures and stories about my mother before she checked out of life.

I’m hoping I will weep at some point or whatever the appropriate response is when one has an ailing mother. I have not wept. I am only tired. I wake up in the middle of the night wondering how this happened and what will life look like now that my life and my sisters’ lives have been changed by one single person who was supposed to keep it together? Instead she has three daughters keeping it together because we are her pension plan, her retirement annuity. The strong, black woman has let us down.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Thank you, Maya Angelou

I found out about Maya Angelou’s passing from a new friend while visiting Uganda. Access to the internet was sporadic and I hadn’t checked Twitter for a glimpse of what was happening in the world. When he told me I slapped him on the arm (a terrible reflex I have when I’m shocked or angry) because in my mind I imagined her picture and words disappearing forever. But then I realised, people like her don’t really die, they live on forever.
I remember the first time I encountered her work. I was in a library looking for something new. I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for but I knew it when I saw it. It was an anthology of work by African-American women. The first poem in the anthology was Sojourner Truth’s Ain’t I a Woman. I couldn’t believe the treasure that was in the book. It was my first discovery of black women who wrote and wrote about things that mattered to my teenage mind. Yes, they were African-American but they made me receptive to the idea that writing and ideas matter. And black women can write and many have believed that their voices and ideas matter.
After poring over the anthology I made it my job to find more work by women like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and read whatever I could find (soon after I discovered a book Zenzele by Nozipho J Maraire — this was the first book I read written by an African woman). I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Maya Angelou’s collection of essays and poems with gusto. Her voice had a conviction and a rhythm. Typically, my favourite became Phenomenal Woman. By the time I finished high school it had become a mantra and I liked the idea of having a sway in my hips or not having to jump about or talk real loud in order to be heard.
During my first term at Rhodes I had a few jarring moments that brought me back to my reality: that one can be in the numerical majority but be culturally marginalised. It took an English tutorial (and introduction to philosophy) for me to realise that the work of the black writers I was discovering were not actually the norm. The voices of black intellectuals (especially women) came much later in my education. At the end of first term the tutor had asked us to bring a poem we would read and share with the rest of the group. It was the end of our first poetry module and we had covered the work of poets (mostly white men — I still have the anthology as evidence, compiled by Dan Wylie) preparing us for the launch into the anthologies by Seamus Heaney and Gerad Manley Hopkins (more white men).
So I decided to take along Phenomenal Woman. Before I read the piece I announced the title assuming that everyone would know the poet. I was the only person in my tutorial who knew the poem and the poet. I was confused: How could they not know one of the best poets alive? I naively believed that everyone knew about this important woman who expressed the joys and heaviness of being human and more importantly, a black woman. She wasn’t a poet like William Wordsworth or Sylvia Plath. She had the timbre of a familiar voice; someone I could have met and sat with and chatted with about all the things that pain me and bring me joy. And she would have listened.
Women like Maya Angelou (notice I can’t just say Maya or Dr Maya Angelou) gave me a different way of seeing the world. I am the cliché: another black woman whose life was changed by her words. Maya Angelou’s existence, her stories and her voice will be with me forever. Her work made me question why there aren’t more women writing about their lives? Her work made me more receptive to work by Nontsizi Mgqwetho, a black, South African woman who wrote poetry in the Xhosa newspaper Isigidimi Sabantsundu in the 1920s.
I don’t think of Maya Angelou as a role model. She’s just Maya Angelou: someone who gave others the space to be and believe in the importance of their convictions and thoughts about the world. I’m not really sad she’s passed on (we all saw that coming) because she’s left us with so much more. She left us with her poetry and her words, which will live on forever. Thank you Maya Angelou.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Elections: the rural vote

This is an extract from the article written for Al Jazeera Opinion:

When voters went to the polls May 7 to cast a vote for a national and provincial government, there was already a sense of resignation because in spite of the campaign from opposition parties such as the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) , we all knew the African National Congress (ANC) would win the national election with an overwhelming support provincially. The ANC has been the default government since 1994 when Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president after apartheid.

This default position is largely due to what we know happens to liberation movements: They are supported by the majority of the population, often for complex reasons long after the liberation moment has ended. One would think that given the ANC's record of corruption, lack of service delivery in poor areas, the Marikana massacre, disgruntled worker unions, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, voters would be happy to let go of the ANC after 20 years. But this is not the case. Predictions from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) indicated that the ANC would still be in power after these elections, although it wouldn't have the two-thirds majority it once enjoyed.

As the ANC celebrates victory, some analysts have pointed out that there has been a meaningful drop in support for the ANC in these elections, especially in urban areas. Indeed, rural areas have been considered ANC's stronghold for some time.  But is confidence in ANC dropping only among the urban dwellers?

The rest of the article can be found here: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/05/south-africa-elections-rural-vot-20145108365499913.html

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ubizo (The calling)

“Utitshala ohamba emthunzini wetempile phakathi kwabalandeli bakhe, akaniki okobulumko bakhe, koko okokholo lwakhe nokothando lwakhe.” La ngamazwi wombhali obekekileyo, uKhalil Gibran kwincwadi yakhe ethi Umprofethi. La mazwi abalulekile xa sicinga ngabantu abaye bazixhamla bazibandakanya kumsebenzi ojongene nemfundo yabantwana nolutsha beli: ingakumbi ootitshala bethu. Xa sithetha ngootitshala apha eMzantsi sinento yokubagalela ngamanzi ngakumbi xa sijonge iziphumo zebanga lokuqgibela okanye xa sixelelwa ngoqhankqalazo lootitshala ngenxa yokufuna ukurhola ngcono. Ezi ziganeko zithi ootitshala bethu abazimiselanga kwimfundo yabantwana bethu. Abanye bade bathi ixesha lokuba ootitshala bazidle ngomsebenzi wabo ladlula.

Kudala kwakuthiwa xa ubani ezinikezela kumsebenzi othile, ade abalasele, abonakalise ubuchule kumsebenzi othile kuthiwa ubiziwe. Ubizo olu yinto echaphazela abantu abathile: ingakumbi oogqirha (namagqirha), umfundisi wenkonzo njalo njalo. Oku kuthi asinguye uwonke wonke obiziweyo. Liqaqobana la bantu abazinikezelayo kumsebenzi wokukhonza ilizwe. Side sithi abantu ababiziweyo ngabantu abanesiphiwo lokuzinikezela kumsebenzi odelekileyo. Ndiye ndizibuze umbuzo: xa sisithi abantu abathile babiziwe, babizwe ngubani? Lo mbuzo uzama ukuphicotha lo mba wobizo kuba xa ubani esabela ubizo uyazincama yaye uzincamela inkolelo yokubaluleka komsebenzi abizelwe wona.

Ndiye ndafunda ngomzekelo omhle wotishala ozinikezeleyo, wasabela ubizo lokufundisa ulutsha. uMama Shape Msiza utitsha isiNgesi ePonelopele Oracle Secondary School, eEbony Park eMidrand. Ngonyaka ka2012 waye wavuzwa ngewonga eliphakamisa ootishala kudidi lwamawonga. Yena uMam’Msiza wafumana kwiTop Gauteng Teachers Awards kwingqinqi Ekurhuleni. Eliwonga walifumana ngenxa yeziphumo zabantwana bakhe ngexesha eyintloko yesebe lesiNgesi kwisikolo sakhe. Abafundi bakhe baphumelela emagqabini kwizifundo zesiNgesi. Kudliwano-ndlebe kunye neBBC uncokola ngesakhono sakhe nobuchule abusebenzisayo xa etitsha. Uthi uba ngumzali kubafundi bakhe ukuze bangamoyiki yaye akwazi ukuthetha nabo ngazo zonke izinto ezibalulekileyo, hayi ezesikolo kuphela. Uthando nenkathalo alubonakalisayo kubafundi bakhe lwenza angahoyi into ezinje ngemali ayirholayo yaye oku ukucacisa ngelithi : most cases teachers are not seen as a people who can be rich or who can be rich because the salary is not good. You never have money as a teacher! So we need to see it as a calling. You need to compromise.” Oku kuthi uxanduva azithathele wona uMam’Msiza libonakalisa ukuba indlovu ayisindwa ngomboko wayo.
Umsebenzi kaMam’Msiza awuphelelanga kwigumbi lokufundisa kuba ungumququzeleli kwezinye iinkonzo zesikolo kwakunye nokuncedisana nabafundi abalungiselela ukuphangela okanye abazimisele ukuqhubekeka nemfundo yabo emva komatriki. Nangona ewuthathela phezulu ubizo lwakhe, uMam’Msiza uyavuma ukuba ikhona imiceli-mngeni kulo msebenzi wakhe ingakumbi isimilo sabantwana besikolo. Nangona eligqala (uneminyaka eliyishumi amabini engutitshala), abafundi bakhe banamaxesha lokuphuma izithuba, intlonipho bayishiye ngaapha kwemida yesikolo. Abanye badibana nobunzima basebenzise iziyobisi yaye oku, kuchaphazela imfundo yabo. Iintombi zona ziye ziroxe esikolweni ngenxa yokukhulelwa. Abanye abafundi ziinkedama. Oku kuthi uMam’Msiza uthwele umthwalo wokufundisa abantwana abanemithwalo yabo.

Xa siqwalasela ibali likaMam’Msiza kumele sikhumbule ubume bezemfundo zalapha eMzantsi.Unintsi bootitshala banomsebenzi onzima wokufundisa unintsi lwabantwana nangona urhulumente engabaxhasi ngeencwadi zokufunda ezifanelekileyo (umzekelo eMpuma Koloni naseLimpopo).Oku kuthi umsebenzi wootitshala abaninzi unobunzima obungathethekiyo, kodwa obu bunzima buchaphazela abantu ababiziweyo, yaye basabela.


Ndibanovalo eleke ndicinga ngobizo; ibali likaMam’Msiza kwakunye nabo bonke ootitshala abazibandakanya kulomsebenzi ngenxa yobizo. Nje ngotitshala osandokungena kweliqela lababiziweyo, ndiye ndizithandabuze: ingaba ndingutitshala ofanelekileyo na xa ndizibona nje ngongabizwanga? Ingaba uthini umahluko phakathi kotitshala obiziweyo nongabizwanga? Ndinomrhano: le nto yobizo yeyabantu abathile. Ootitshala abafundisa kwimeko ezimaxongo nezibonakalisa ubunzima balomsebenzi; ngabo ababiziweyo. Kodwa, singathini ngootitshala abafundisa kwizikolo eziphucukileyo? Yintoni ebangela ukuba ootitshala abaninzi banganikezeli xa bedibana nobunzima ezikolweni zabo? Ingaba lubizo?

A similar article written in English can be found here:
http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/athambilemasola/2014/04/22/the-calling/

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

#TeacherTuesday Week 10: On teaching "creatures"

For the past two months I have been writing about the lives of teachers and their students from across the globe (for a project called #TeacherTuesday). All these stories have been highlighting the complexities in classrooms and policies that often underpin what happens in the classroom. Most of the reflections I’ve written for #TeacherTuesday have largely questioned the notion of access to education: inclusion and exclusion. The question of equal education and equal opportunities within education has been the golden thread over the past few weeks. And more importantly, thinking through ways in which education can be a tool for changing lives, especially for those who are often poor or marginalised.

When I read about Sitira from Indonesia I realised that my view about inclusion and exclusion in schools still needs to be challenged. Sitira is a Special Need Education Coordinator at Tunas Harapan Elementary School in Bandung City. There are 672 children in her school and 44 of them have a  disability. She reflects that there are many challenges she faces in her school. Dealing with the negative perceptions about people with disabilities means that their education is often not taken seriously and inadequately funded. Many do not get the skills to work or study further once they have completed secondary school.
The word disability is often seen as synonymous with abnormal. In Xhosa people with disabilities or perceived as “special needs” are referred to as “Isidalwa” (literal translation, a creature). This word bothers me because there is a lack of recognition of the humanity of people who do not meet the standards of what it means to be normal. In Grahamstown there’s a school that caters to children who have special needs (physical and mental barriers to learning); the school is called Kuyasa Special Schhol. While I lived in Grahamstown and observed and worked in mainstream, township schools I often heard teachers referring to deviant or unacceptable behaviour amongst their “normal” students “wenza ikuyasa” (literally, you are doing a kuyasa, implying something wrong) thus associating Kuyasa with deviance. Such everyday utterances have implications about what it means to be a good or bad student or more importantly about what it constitutes to be human and non-human.

When we consider the reality of the education of children with disabilities, reliable data are notoriously difficult to obtain to get a real sense of the inequality in their access to education. One estimate is that 93 million children under age 14, or 5.1% of the world’s children, were living with a ‘moderate or severe disability’. Of these, 13 million, or 0.7% of the world’s children, experience severe disabilities[1]. Around four in five children with disabilities are in developing countries. At all ages, levels of both moderate and severe disability are higher in low- and middle-income countries than in rich countries. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest[2]. The scale of disabilities is often under-reported and therefore difficult to gauge for possible interventions. To take one example, according to GMR 2010,  a 2004 census in Sierra Leone reported only 3,300 cases of mental impairment, while a detailed national survey the year before had estimated the real figure to be ten times higher. This is questionable and highlights the shame that seems to be associated with being isidalwa.

If one is in a developing country there are also myths one has to contend with that often perpetuate the silence and stigma around people with disabilities. When I was growing up, I was taught to believe that people with disabilities had made the ancestors angry and therefore their disability was a punishment from the ancestors. For those who were mentally impaired, someone had cast a spell on them to render them senseless and shame their family. The irony of these stories is that there were certain people who were exempt from the myths and shame associated with physical disability. By society’s measures my grandmother was isidalwa. As a child she contracted polio on both legs. One of her legs healed but the other didn’t and she spent most of her life using a walking stick. In spite of the stigma of being disabled, black and female, my grandmother was educated and she was able to become financially independent because she worked and became as a well-known seamstress in East London. With her measly salary she raised her own children as a single mother and later opened a small business sewing for people in her community. My grandmother’s story has always made me think differently about the stigma attached to disability. Because she was educated she had the chance to live a public life where she could earn a living rather than become invisible in her family because of the shame that comes with disability. The only limitations that were placed on her were those imposed by an apartheid government which narrowed the opportunities black women could make use of.

The silence and stigma attached to people with disabilities means that there isn’t a global recognition of the importance of making education meaningful for a group of people who are often marginalised for their difference. In South Africa a separate ministry for women, children and people with disabilities was created in order to address the rights of people who fall within society’s perception of “the vulnerable group”. I’m ambivalent about the ministry because on the one hand it aims to recognise that there’s a need to protect the rights of certain groups of people, on the other hand, it runs the risk of highlighting what is normal and what is abnormal where the issues of marginalised groups are a footnote in political discourse.

 This blog post is part of the #Teacher Tuesday blog project, which seeks to discuss the issues emerging in the Unesco Education for All Global Monitoring Report.

[1] Global Monitoring Report (GMR) 2013/14
[2] Global Monitoring Report 2010

Monday, April 28, 2014

Reflections from #TeacherTuesday

After 9 weeks of reading and writing about teachers from across the world as a part of the #TeacherTuesday blog project, I have had the chance to get a glimpse of some of the challenges and success stories when it comes to education. The idea of #TeacherTuesday was to profile the stories of teachers from Kenya, Honduras, Bangladesh, Australia, Afghanistan, Syria, Malawi, the Netherlands and South Africa while addressing some of the findings from the Education for All Global Monitoring report.

Each story was unique and each teacher gave me a sense that there are people  who are invested in making the education of children across the world as meaningful as possible given the environment they are within. Each story was also an opportunity for me to grapple with the questions I have about education, some remain unanswered.

Esnart from Malawi was the first teacher I wrote about. Her story made me realised that there are teachers who work within limitations but inspire a generation of teachers as Esnart was inspired by one of her teachers during her school years and thus she became a teacher. The irony is that her students have no desire of becoming teachers in spite of the obvious challenges in Malawi that are directly linked to the shortage of teachers. I find it ironic that now more than ever we need teachers  but there are dwindling numbers and a lack of interest in the profession.

Lessons from Honduras made me realise a little more that South Africa is not special in its challenges with language policy in schools. Inclusion and exclusion happens on many levels in our schools and without a clear plan to negotiate the language issue in our school, transformative education is simply an ideal. Teaching children in a language seems to be a no-brainer. But even countries like Australia get it wrong and children from Aboriginal communities lag behind in literacy and numeracy when compared to children in Australia who are taught in their mother tongue.

Education in Afghanistan, and any country recovering from a violent past, is in a precarious position. Especially if one is a born a girl. The gender disparity in education in developing countries makes me realise more and more that there’s a case for feminism: for as long as the education of a boy matters more in some countries, then men and women will never be equal in such contexts. And given how porous our borders are in a fast-changing world, the problem of gender inequality in Afghanistan can easily spill over and become my problem, even though I am all the way in South Africa. If young boys in Afghanistan (and across other nations where gender inequality persists) that is a problem that can create problems for future generations.
Displacement is one of the silent side-effects of war and conflict and often we take it for granted. Wars are reported on a grand scale of the number of deaths, the negotiations that take place in fancy and remote buildings. We seldom hear about the lives that are being disrupted. We know intuitively while reading or hearing about war that the lives of those who manage to survive will never be the same again. This is the case with educationin Syria where refugee camps have been set up to ensure that the education of children affected by war can continue, within great limitations imposed by a context such as a refugee camp.

Education has meant different things for each generation. When formal education began to take shape it was for the purpose of highlighting the different classes that exist in a given society and quality education was often reserved for the upper classes. Education has now become a means to an end that will end the class struggle that still exists. In Kenya, education is a means to improve the lives of those who live in abject poverty. Without an escape from poverty children in the slums of Kibera will be stuck in the poverty trap that comes with being poor and receiving a poor education.

It is interesting to note that there isn’t one single story to tell when we consider developing countries across the world. While most of the children in Africa don’t get a quality education unless they are in privileged pockets of the continent, countries such as India and Bangladesh are using technology in ways that enhance access to education especially for poor communities. Attempts such as floating schools cannot be replicated everywhere but the can definitely be used as inspiration for what is possible when education is made a priority despite the limitations that exist in poor areas.

But there are also countries who seem to be getting education right. Developed countries such as the Netherlands have different problems: professional development of teachers. Teaching is a competitive and highly sought after profession which means that teachers are regarded differently. The small gap between the rich and the poor makes education more meaningful as education has a different value in such a country because it is not simply a means to an end.


Reflections and lessons from across the world can help us gain perspective for solving our education challenges especially in South Africa. There is nothing new under the sun and in South Africa it would be in our best interest to keep our eyes open and consider what is happening in other countries, as the lessons are both here and abroad.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Week 9 #TeacherTuesday: The calling

There are very few professions that are referred to as “a calling”. The few I know: teaching, being a doctor (traditional healers included) and becoming a religious teacher. There are super-spiritual connotations with the idea of “a calling”. The first time I heard about the idea of “a calling”  was in the context of someone becoming a traditional healer. The idea is that one is called by the ancestors and they are bestowed with special gifts from the ancestors in order to help people through spiritual and physical healings. There is very little choice when one is “called” because “a calling” suggests fate, destiny.The idea that some professions could be “a calling” came much later, but the idea also has the same connotations of “specialness” because someone who has been called to be a teacher has special gifting that allows them to be a teacher, often in the most difficult circumstance.

Mme Shape Msiza is a teacher who thinks of her role as a teacher as “a calling”. She has been teaching for twenty years. She teaches English at Ponelopele Oracle Secondary School (POSS) in Ebony Park, Midrand. In 2012 she was the winner of Top Gauteng Teachers Awards in Ekurhuleni under the secondary education category. Since she’s been the Head of the English department (at POSS) she has achieved 100% in English amongst Grade 12 learners. In an interview with the BBC she describes her teaching style as one she comes out of her shoes as a teacher and becomes a parent which allows her to talk to the students about their social lives. Her love and passion for her students trumps her ambitions for financial gains as she reflects: “most cases teachers are not seen as a people who can be rich or who can be rich because the salary is not good. You never have money as a teacher! So we need to see it as a calling. You need to compromise.”

 She influences the lives of her students beyond the classroom as someone who is involved in a myriad of activities that have a holistic approach to a child’s education. She helps students with real life matters so they are ready for the real world when they leave school. One of the challenges she mentions is that it is not easy being a teacher. Children are not what they used to be because even when a teacher reprimands a students it does not mean the students will be respectful. Some students are involved with drugs, others drop out of school because of pregnancy and others are child orphans with no adult supervision in their life. In a school of just over a 1000 learners, 20 girls often drop out because of pregnancy.
 As part of expressing her commitment to her students (and her calling) Mme Msiza commits to her learners by giving them extra lessons as she is concerned about those who lag behind during class time. In spite of her efforts at being a teacher she expresses a concern that many students are reluctant to become teachers when they leave schools. Those who are successful at the end of matric come back to the school to share their experience in other career paths, but not teaching.

 Mme Msiza’s story is a complex one given the context of education in South Africa. More specifically, when we consider the image we have of teachers in most township schools; how many teachers who have 40 or 50 learners in their class (many of whom they never get to know and may never get to teach meaningfully) consider their experience as a special vocation, “a calling”? Mme Msiza is open about her low salary as she chooses to invest in the lives of others rather than pursue a lucrative career. Yet we know that many teachers from township schools are the ones found guilty of disrupting schools and striking in the name of better salaries.

 I am conflicted when I read about Mme Msiza’s work in her school. Personally, I haven’t experienced  teaching as “a calling”. I chose to be a teacher. I don’t know if it is my fate or part of my destiny. Does this make me a bad teacher? What is the difference between a teacher who sees their role as a teacher with “a calling” and one who does not sees their role as a teacher with a degree of specialness, “a calling”? I think this question alludes to a class dynamic at play in the teaching profession: teachers who teach under difficult circumstances such as township schools or rural areas need to feel special given the circumstances they find themselves within. One can only be “called” to become a teacher if they choose to teach under dire circumstances where their learners build resilience and are often let down by the education. What makes them continue being teachers? Is it the weight of the “calling” or a question of choices available to them? How about teachers in private schools: if one is in a privileged context with a different set of challenges and different choices available, do they share the same sentiments of specialness in the form of “a calling”?

 This blog post is part of the #Teacher Tuesday blog project, which seeks to discuss the issues emerging in the Unesco Education for All Global Monitoring Report. This is week 9 of the project (ten teachers over ten weeks).