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Friday, June 12, 2015

Approaching the elephant: reflections on school culture

I recently watched the film Approaching the elephant https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdGIkBSkEdc

I walked away from the film feeling exhausted. Not because of the length of the film but rather I had been consumed by the lives of the teachers and children whose lives were embroiled in a school environment that is unfamiliar to me. The film explores the experience of being in a free school. Until recently I knew nothing about free schools. According to the prologue of the films, the idea of free schools goes back to the early 1900s. The film shows us a structure that is unfamiliar to many of us who have gone through traditional systems of education. In a free school there are no structured lessons. Students and teachers make decisions democratically through council meetings that can also be chaired by the students. By students I mean children: most of the students at the free school featured in the movie appear to be younger than 13. The only rules in place when the school begins are rules related to the safety of the children. The rest of the school culture is determined as the life of the school unfolds.

While watching with the film the following thoughts came to mind:

  • Schools are age-old institutions intricately linked to what society and the power structures determine as a good school. The free school in the film seeks to undermine he idea of what a school should be. This is seen as an alternative view to what schooling should be. This is valuable but many questions can be posed in response to the value of this aproach: to what end? What is the end of creating a school that does not match up with the standards of what society thinks should be a "good school"? And there are many response to this question; one being that, well, the idea of what is a "good school" is determined by many factors: being in a capitalist society, getting kids in certain universities, getting kids to think in a particular way etc.

  • Is it possible to undermine power dynamics which schools require in order to make sense? By power dynamics I am referring to the relationship between teachers and students. The children in the film seem to have equal power with the adults who supervise in the school. For example, they call them by name and the children feel that they are allowed to tell the adults exactly how they feel about issues. The children's voices matter: often more than the adults' voices. My students would love to call me by name but the tradtional culture we have in my school dictates that they call me "Ms. Masola" (except the Drama department in our school subverts this culture and the kids call them by their names, even nicknames!). I have a lot of power as a teacher because I am the adult in the room and I have been given the power to have the dominant voice. Sometimes this makes me uncomfortable because my students are less likely to challenge me. 

  • How do we break the mold  in schools but keeping a sense of order? There's a lot of chaos in the free school. There's very little chaos in my school (even when it's break time: the perceived sense of freedom during our school time). My first year of teaching was chaotic. My classroom management skills were non-existent. And when I did start to develop some they were often ineffective. Schools thrive on order: we have bells and times indicating what kids should be doing at any given time. But do we (teachers/management) stop to consider what message we are giving children about their sense of freedom while they are in school?

  • On a more positive note, the film made me think about the messages we give them about how and when they can express themselves. The kids in the free school are very expressive. The use the words "feel" many times -- I feel like we should...-- which is unusual. One of the directors in the school, Alex, also gets very emotional when things don't seem to be working out the way he imagined. This is also unusual: expressing emotions can often be perceived as unprofessional. We rant and rave about our experiences as teachers behind closed doors and not in front of the children: unless it's anger and it is directed towards them. But the children in the free school understand emotion and respond to it appropriately often prefacing their response with "I don't mean to be mean but I'm just be truthful". I've only ever seen this kind of expression when I worked in a primary school as a stooge (a live-in teacher at a hostel). The experience taught me many things about children, especially the fact that children have a sense of justice when something is unfair and when something is right. Somehow we silence that sense of justice and by the time kids are in high school we have to have explicit "upstander campaign" encouraging teenagers to stand up when they see someone being bullied. This isn't a problem per se, however, I I find it interesting that the older we get the more blurred lines become about when we should express ourselves with a sense of justice for ourselves as individuals and for others.

  • During the film one of the kids gets expelled. The decision is made through a vote by the adults and the children: this is unheard of in any school. Expulsion is a decision left to the head of the school and the governing body (and if it's a public school) the department of education. The fact that the children have a voice in the decision-making of the school highlights that children's voices matter. However, watching the kids decide that Giovanni should leave also felt like a different version of The Lord of the flies where children stuck on an island become their own law-makers. So this leaves me with another question: to what extent do we need adults to guide children to make decisions about their experiences and the world around them.
Finally, the film made me think about school culture: the big and small questions we ask ourselves about what we are doing in schools. And more importantly, the film requires us to think about the unanswerable and much disputed questions about the purpose of education. After watching the film I had more questions than a formed idea. I was also left with questions about what I do in my classroom as a teacher and more importantly, what I think still needs to happen in my classroom.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Teaching is like eating an olive

Teaching is like eating an olive: bitter-sweet. Bitter because olives are disgusting (or some would say an acquired taste) and like teaching, some aspects of teaching are unpleasant (marking exams). Sweet because eating olives has health benefits that I don't necessarily see nor feel; the same way that I won't necessarily see the results of some of the labour I put in with my students. I'm sure my students could think of better analogies about the relationship between teaching and learning because they have many opinions about what happens in the classroom.

I've been helping a student who has asked for help because she struggles with comprehension exercises. Every week she reads a comprehension exercise and answers questions which she gives to me to mark. Once I've marked her work we sit together and talk through her answers. While marking her most recent submission I wondered what she thinks about when approaching these exercises. I also got the feeling that she may have rushed the exercise because time constraints are a real factor when trying to be "good at" something in a school context (think about exams and the 40 minute lessons we have to cover work).  I have been struck by how she has internalised that she is not "good at" comprehensions: this means that she does not get 80% (because in school being good at something means adding a percentage to it to see how much you understand). Every week I challenge her to change this perception of not being "good at" comprehensions. We're still working on it.

Part of the problem is the idea of thinking. What does my student think when she approaches her homework or the weekly comprehensions she dutifully submits? I imagine she thinks about many things: consciously and unconsciously. Is she aware of the difficulty of her task or is she consumed by her imagined incompetence when she has to do a comprehension as an assessment? Her most recent submission was very frustrating to mark. I found myself wondering: is she thinking? Most of the questions she answered required inference and paraphrasing which she garbled through. The big question however is: by handing in comprehensions each week, will she get "good at" answering comprehensions in a test or exam?

Teaching and learning (in certain disciplines) is premised on the idea of "practice makes perfect": the more comprehensions my student does she will get better marks. Just like eating the olive; the more I eat them the more I'll get used to the taste. But what does this mean for thinking? Will my student become a better thinker with every comprehension question she answers? The answer is probably on a scale between no and maybe. There's no certainty that doing something more often means you 'll become better at it; especially if you are applying the same strategies every time.

This is not a genius conclusion and one that is based on observing one student. I guess my main concern is about the connection between thinking and the development and change in the thinking after exposure to certain work. I'm also worried that when my student writes her exam in a few weeks time and she doesn't do well; how will she understand her practice of comprehension not yielding the perfect result? Because practice makes perfect right? Furthermore, is there anything I can do as her teacher to help her think about her thinking?

I'm sure this isn't the only student who struggles with this aspect of learning and thinking. I'm also sure that her challenge with comprehension is a symptom of how difficult learning and metacognition is in a climate where learning is about "practice makes perfect". If anyone has any readings or suggestions that could enlighten me on this issue your ideas would be greatly appreciated.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

What, in today's world, will appal our grandchildren?

This is the question posed in one of the features in this month's Intelligent life magazine. I considered the question for myself and considered a few more suggestions I could add to such a discussion. I also thought that such a question is a difficult one to consider as it requires some imagination: what will our grandchildren be like? The question also requires us to consider our current existence and lifestyle and curb our self-indulgence.

I considered for a moment what I find appalling about my grandmother's life:

  1. How did she live with apartheid?
  2. How could she have some many children as a single mother?
  3. How did she put up with the gender stereotypes? (there's an answer to that one: she never married)
The list is endless. But the more interesting list to consider is what my children's children could find reprehensible.
  1. How we treat poor people: those of us who live comfortable lives have an uneasy relationship with those "who are less fortunate than us". We tolerate them because there's nothing we can do about their lack. More importantly, living with a government that is anti-poor and pro-inequality, the problem isn't with us "normal people" but with "them", the government and the elite. I hope future generations will become less tolerant of inequality.
  2. The amount of money their mothers, grandmothers and aunts spend on their hair. I've come to consider that whether it's a GHD or relaxing or weaving or highlights or braids (and sometimes even natural hair such as dreadlocks): women's hair is expensive to maintain. Most women have caved into the beauty industry and we simply accept that spending hundreds or rands on hair is normal. I don't think it is. This is not to suggest that I have a solution for this quandary but I hope women in the future will be more creative and critical when it comes to their views about beauty.
  3. The way we treat women in spite of the gains that have been made: need I say more?
  4. Our obsession with the nuclear family: I think families are going to look very different in the future and the children growing up in alternative or "different"families will hopefully continue this culture that allows people to adopt and bring kids into the world with the help of modern medicine.
I can't think of anymore possibilities. But I think this question makes for interesting discussion. How many of us are considering the future? If we lived our lives with our grandchildren in mind would we make different decisions? I would be keen to hear more creative--and perhaps more frivolous--ideas about what might appal our grandchildren.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reader's Cafe: Why my story/her-story matters in Africa

Last week Friday I was invited to speak at Reader's Cafe, a student society at the University of Pretoria. There were four other speakers who had written about the issues facing the continent. The other pieces can be read on the website:
http://readerscafeafrica.com/2015/04/why-my-storyher-story-matters-in-africa/

Growing up I often heard my mother say the words “ukuza kukaNxele”. She would say this in relation to something that might never happen, the idea of waiting in vain. A translation of the expression is quite difficult to come by and I can’t think of an equivalent in English but the title of Samuel Beckett’s aburdist play,  “waiting for Godot”, comes close. In order to explain the expression, I’ll tell the story. There was once a man named Nxele, or as some might say,uMakana kaNxele. He is something of a legend amongst Xhosa people. He was a prophet who became notorious or famous for rebelling against the English in the frontier wars. He lived around the place that was to become Grahamstown (the municipality that Grahamstown falls under is currently named after him).  He was imprisoned on Robbin Island in 1818 after a failed uprising against the British. Rumour has it or rather as my mother tells the story, Nxele vowed he would come back from the god-forsaken island. Together with other prisoners they tried to escape the island but never succeeded. They drowned while trying to escape and thus the Xhosas are still waiting for Nxele to come back as he promised. This is an example of how a historical narrative finds itself in everyday language willing us to remember the past.

The most famous example of a historical narrative that found itself in everyday language, in particular isiXhosa, is the story of Nongqawuse. When someone is  telling tall tales or stories that sound too good to be true this young woman always comes back to haunt us. A teenage girl, who told Xhosa people she had received a prophecy from the ancestors. She told them that they should slaughter all their cattle and burn their fields so that that the ancestors will arise from the dead and drive the white people into the sea and the dignity of the Xhosa nation would be restored. None of this ever happened. Nongqawuse became responsible for the impoverishment of the Xhosa people and a conspiracy whether it wasn’t white people who had influenced her to tell such a tale to begin with has always been in question. So when Xhosa people want to express their dismay at someone’s shocking actions that seem inconceivable, the story of the catastrophic cattle killings of the 1800s is invoked as hayi seskaNongqawuse.

I tell these anecdotes because they are some  of my first memories of how my mother attempted to tell me about African history, with a particular focus on Xhosa people. She had to do this seamlessly given that she had made the decision to send me to an English school that taught me history based on the arrival of the 1820 settlers. I hope you will not think of my emphasis on Xhosa history as any form of tribalism. I speak isiXhosa and where I am from is my vantage point when thinking about African history. I tell this story also because it amazes me how my mother taught me about African history through everyday language. My father attempted to impress my heritage upon me by teaching me my clan names: MamGcina, noKwindla, Xhamela, Ncancashe so that I would know that I come from a longer lineage and a wider group of families who are related. When I was in high school I had to do a history project and I chose to write about my great-grandfather. My mother described him as a wonderful man, a Baptist minister who was famous for having friends in spite of the racial barriers created by apartheid. When I was in varsity I discovered that the word Xhosa wasn’t random: it means angry. The khoi san people gave Xhosa people this name because of some of the conflicts between the two groups. I’m not sure when Xhosa people appropriated it for themselves.

These stories recently became more significant in light of the Rhodes must fall campaign. Behind or within the story of the statues and students at UCT, Rhodes and UKZN was the question of history. We all have a fraught relationship with the colonial history of the continent. An aggressive time that created false borders and seemed to entrench tribal identities that later created havoc instead of brining people together; the Rhodes must fall campaign brought into light some of the unfinished business the 1994 project hadn’t dealt with: what should be the honest response to colonialism and apartheid?

The most worrying arguments against the statues being removed was that that would erase history. It was also sad to see that some white people held on to the statues as symbols of their heritage with the kind of arrogance that was blind to what the statues meant for us as South Africans. We cannot erase history. One of the paradoxes of our lives is that we live with history everyday. The anecdotes I shared initially are my examples of how we live with history whether we like it or not. Fortunately we are not in a position of the world George Orwell creates in his dystopian novel where the Ministry of Truth uses the news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts to manipulate the population. In spite of the current government’s efforts to bully and control the media, we know that our own personal histories are powerful when they are remembered and preserved.

So what is it about our history that we need to hang on to, and what do we need to get rid of?

We cannot get rid of history but we can live lives that are ahistorical and allow us to forget history. An ahistorical approach to life is dangerous. The problem with the Rhodes must fall campaign was context. It seemed to have come out of nowhere for many people who believed in that the rainbow nation had been realized. The context of the campaign made people wonder where this anger is coming from all of a sudden. The truth is black anger is always with us and it manifests itself in personal and political spaces. The problem with black anger is that we (as a group of black people who identify with the politics of transformation) often appear as though we must justify our anger. We foreground the Rhodes statue rather than simply declare that institutions still need to transform. Having a black VC at a university does not mean transformation. Having black middle class people in an institution does not mean transformation has been achieved because other forms of exclusions can and do continue. When we invoke history and our current existence as black people, without the focus on symbols such as statues, no one can deny that our experiences and anger are justified. The question, how do we act responsibly in making sure that transformation is taken seriously rather than a superficial game about numbers?

About two years ago I was reminded of history and the work Sol Plaatjie had done in recording the experiences African people were having in the early 1900s. I was reading news reports about the annual floods in Cape Town I thought of Sol Plaatje and his manuscript that was published in 1916, Native life in South Africa. In response to the Native Land Act of 1913 he wrote a book highlighting the consequences of the act as well as the complexities of what happens to a country recovering from a conflict such as the Anglo-Boer War (which ended in 1902) and trying to rebuild itself in the form of the Union in 1910. Anyone who saw the images of Khayelitsha and Philippi in the news saw that poverty continues unashamedly in this country and people’s homelessness and displacement due to rain highlights the gross inequality we ardently write about in our privileged circles. Plaatje’s book describes the harrowing experience of black people becoming landless and being forcefully removed from the farms they knew as home. Natives still exist in the rainbow nation South Africa and they are no longer at the mercy of a harsh and racist government, but rather a more complicated situation where the laws have changed but much of the experience of being poor remains the same. I invoke Sol Plaatje’s work to highlight the importance of understanding history in our current context. I could invoke Plaatje when thinking about the Lwandle evictions that happened last year because they are a another example of the historical question of black people’s ownership of land or property haunting us again.

I hope we will never forget the Rhodes must fall campaign. It is an important campaign for students at the affected universities but also an important campign for South Africa and Africa. It says that all is not well. It says more needs to be done. It says the dream of independence and 1994 have not been fully actualized. In years to come I hope people will mark this time as “when Rhodes fell”, ukuwa kukaRhodes so that we can be reminded of the work that still needs to happen in achieving the kind of South Africa we want, the kind of Africa we want and the kind of world we want the next generation to inherit. Right now recent history shows that we are not doing enough. In the words of Alice Walker, “The world isn’t good enough and we have to make it better”.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Joburg performance

Since I arrived in Joburg I haven't written much. There's something about being a newbie-at work and a new city-it's unsettling and exciting all at once. Joburg was never on my to-do list and now I'm here. The city of gold, the land of milk and honey.

I thought I had it all figured out:my small town life where I could walk everywhere and have no need for a car. A simple life. That dream was crushed when I couldn't or didn't get a job in the Eastern Cape and I listened to the friends who urged me to leave the bubble. And I did. First to Cape Town and now to Joburg. There's an expectancy in Joburg, a feeling that anything can happen, whether it's good or bad.

Many have written about the vibe, gees and spirit in Joburg. The fast-paced lifestyle. Ambition. Crime and violence. The list goes on. I can feel it in most places, especially when I'm stuck in traffic on Jan Smuts Avenue or getting lost in Braamfontien or Sandton. There's a hustle happening in almost every corner. Sometimes it feels like a performance. The Joburg performance. The busyness. Constantly bumping into people you know and promising each other you'll meet up. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. 

I started writing this post while waiting for the Hair Soiree to begin. This was the first event hosted by the Feminist Stokvel because hair is political and black girls and their issues and bodies matter. The event was the epitome of Joburg life: a room full of people who were familiar and unfamiliar. My favourite thing about Joburg is that as much as I don't fit in, I feel normal here. I don't feel like my blackness is special or exceptional or a burden. I'm not the spokesperson for my race because blackness has a voice in Joburg and the voice is varied. The voice is also accompanied by a scream that as much as Joburg is the land of opportunities, there's also a great injustice in the face of all the privileges around us.

Joburg isn't trying to be anything but itself. It's not trying to shame Cape Town (Cape Town does that with little assistance). Joburg is honest about what it means to live in South Africa. The arrogance of privilege and the anger of those who lack that privilege is pervasive. The ostentation of Sandton and the pretentiousness of Maboneng and the poverty in Alex- these experiences are all here. 

As someone who has only been here a few months I'm excited by the prospect of deciding to what extent I'll join the performance and what role I will play.

Monday, December 29, 2014

A good makoti doesn't sleep in

I first become conscious of what it means to be umakoti when I was in high school. I had finally been asked to be a bridesmaid by a young woman who sang in the church choir. Being a bridesmaid meant more than looking pretty on the wedding day. We were also part of the traditional wedding where the bride is officially introduced to the groom’s family. There isn't an English equivalent for the word makoti; perhaps "new bride" comes close.

The most illuminating part of the wedding for black women is the traditional wedding. Most black couples have two weddings: the white wedding and the traditional wedding. For amaXhosa the introduction takes on many forms but it involves the bride getting a new name (igama lasemzini), she wears a new outfit and uyayalwa: she is given advice by the groom’s family, mostly a list of expectations  and sometimes rules about the home that she needs to abide by as the new bride in the home. She is expected to sit demurely, making no eye contact as her doek (ikhetshemiya) covers her eyes. She is judged fiercely if she attempts to look up on the day of the traditional wedding. Soon after ukuyalwa she is sheparded into the kitchen where the process of ukuhota begins. This is a period of a few days where the new bride serves the family: cooks, cleans, makes tea and shows her in-laws and their community that she is worthy of being their new daughter. The mother-in-law (mamazala)watches like a hawk throughout all the proceedings and if the makoti is to have a happy marriage, her mamazala must approve of her in every way.

When my mother left Queenstown and moved to East London it seems she was no longer “tight” with her mamazala (mother-in-law) mostly because they were no longer neighbours. While she was married and in close proximity to her in-laws, it seems it was very important for my mother to have a good relationship with her mother in law. They shared recipes, they went to the same church and they shared tips about sewing (they were both “resourceful”, good Christian women so it seems they had some things in common).  My mother’s makoti name was Nokuzola (the calm, peaceful one) and she always used to laugh at the irony in her name because she hardly has a calm temperament. For her it was a symbol of how little her in-laws knew about her. I always think of her experience as an example of someone who led a double life: as uNokuzola, the good makoti and Thami, her authentic self before she got married.

And now it’s my turn. My partner and I have been talking about getting married for a while. In our efforts of eschewing tradition we decided against the traditional route: no weddings (traditional and white), no lobola and no rituals where families are formally introduced (maybe we’ll have a family dinner to appease my sister who finds the whole thing abhorrent). Just the formal legal procedure in an office somewhere (I’m trying to avoid a church service). Friends  and family have been confused by this choice and in stepping out of tradition we have found ourselves in a very strange situation: which rules do we abide by? Do we abide by the rules at all? The thing about rituals and traditions is that they give you boundaries and an understanding about how to relate to people−a memo of sorts, a social contract. When you step outside those rituals does it mean that you are exempt from the way things are supposed to be? So in avoiding a traditional wedding, does that mean I am exempt from the rules, expectations and ways of being that guide life after these rituals?

 I had hoped I would be. I’m not really crazy about being a makoti. It doesn’t sit well with who I think I am and whom I would like to be. It mostly doesn’t sit well with my feminism (I’ve already been through the tension between marriage and feminism). I don’t like some aspects of being a makoti: when my partner visits my family, there are no expectations on him: he doesn’t need to make tea or cook for anyone. As a woman, I still worry when I visit my partner’s home: is there an unwritten expectation that I should do something? Offer to make tea? (I think of myself as a visitor when I visit his mom’s place). My sister has been married for five years and she often reminds me that being umakoti is about a few moments a year when one has to perform being umakoti (Christmas dinner, attending a family funeral or a family function). There's more to the performance for her though as she gets along with her in-laws and her mamazala has always been supportive of her and her husband.

Recently my partner, his mom and I went to a gathering and his mom introduced me using the word “makoti”. My partner and I are not officially married so I was surprised when she used the word makoti which is usually reserved for a newly-minted wife.  I didn’t say anything about her using the title because I understood that in context, that’s the only way she could have introduced me. I like my partner’s mother. The best word I can think of to describe her is cool or as my mother often describes free women, uyalandela. She’s in her 70s, she works as a nurse in a private hospital nearby (on her own terms), she drives her own car, she lives alone and she seems like a very relaxed and sociable person. She travels with a tour group every December (this year they are going to Dubai). She’s a modern woman and doesn’t seem to have the same hang ups about tradition that I am anxious about.

She’s so modern she allows me to stay over at their home when my partner and I visit Durban. Anyone coming from a traditional or somewhat conservative family will know the unwritten rule that girlfriends (for lack of a better word) never sleep over at their boyfriend’s home until they’ve jumped through the official hoops. The first time I stayed over I was very anxious. In my mind I was breaking the cardinal rule of family relations (mostly I kept thinking: what would my mother say?) but I stayed anyway. I didn’t wake up early to make tea. I didn’t offer to clean the house. I didn’t do anything. I was on holiday and I was a visitor (even though I was a visitor under the guise that I was “the girl I’m going to marry” as my partner said to his mom). I never got over the awkwardness. In a second visit to Durban I reverted to the unwritten rule and decided against staying over, like a good girl should.

But then I changed my mind again. My relationship has shifted and I’ve moved in with my partner, there’s talk of a pre-nup and I have a ring on my finger so I’m a little more legit than being the girlfriend. So when my partner’s mom suggested I stay over, I relented, with fewer anxieties this time around. My partner warned me that she doesn’t like it when people sleep in so every morning we would be out of bed by 10am. I ignored the rule on a particular day and his mom walked into our room looking for something only to find me half asleep at 12 noon. I was mortified, vuleka mhlaba ndingene. I felt like I had offended her by breaking a rule her own son doesn’t break when he visits her. But partly, I felt justified: at least she knows I can break the rules. Good makotis don’t sleep in.


I’m not sure how to relate to my partner’s family. My partner doesn’t think that is a problem. I have convinced myself that my family isn’t as structured as his family and he keeps reminding me that his family is far more relaxed than I think. So in stepping out of the boundaries given by tradition we’re allowing ourselves the chance to figure things out. My greatest fear is that we will eventually give into the default setting where I will be a makoti because it’s easier than trying to decide if I’m pushing the boundaries if I decide to sleep in because I’m on holiday.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Moving to Joburg and leaving Cape Town

The year is coming to an end. I have a few weeks left in Cape Town before I do the unthinkable: move to Joburg. People have been asking me how I feel about moving to Jozi. I’m not sure. My standard answer has been “I’m just trying to get to the end of the year, pack and move things across the country and then think about what it all means”. It sounds as though I’m in survival mode and trying to get through to the end of the year with all my wits intact. Some days are better than others. My wits keep leaving me from time to time and I have a sleeplessness night plagued by endless worries.

I’ve had a few teary moments when thinking about the trek up North. Not because I have any major attachments to Cape Town (I wish I did). Sometimes I feel like I’ve let myself down by not giving this place a chance to seep into my bones and psyche (when I moved here in 2012 I knew I wouldn't think of Cape Town as home. I wasn't settling here). I’m sad to be leaving my school. I’m sad there are some kids I won’t be able to see grow a little older. There’s creative writing from my favourite writers I’ll never get to see (I keep saying I would love to edit their work even when I’m away, but I doubt they will email me and keep in touch). And another teacher is going to reap the rewards of some of the work I’ve put into the students I’ve taught and struggled with since 2012.

The move to Joburg has made me question myself and my intentions a lot. The idea for the great move first came to mind last year July. But near the end of the year I decided to be selfless (and practical) and stay for another year so that my Grade 11 class (in 2013) wouldn’t have to deal with a new teacher in their final year. Somehow, it mattered more for them then my current Grade 11s (story for another day).  The desire for change also posed some questions about whether I would continue teaching or study further. Initially I applied and registered for a Ph. D. But things didn’t quite fit. I had lots of admin and the registration process became a chore. If I was a little more esoteric, I would have read the disruptions differently; as signs, omens of things to come. But I pushed through and attempted to do the Ph. D while teaching as well. “Big mistake! Huge!”[1] (another story for another day).

The omen did come in the form of my mother having a stroke in July. It shouldn’t have rattled me as much as it did. I’m used to things going wrong as much as I’m surprised when things don’t go wrong. So when my mother had a stroke I had to rethink my plans: to teach or to push through with the Ph. D and be a poor student for a few years? I opted for the former and decided to find other options for my new life in Joburg. I was surprised when I saw a teaching post at a girls school in Joburg, another sign, or omen or serendipity (I'm still deciding). I applied and they gave me the job as the English teacher starting next year.

As the year creeps closer to the end and my spell in Cape Town has been narrowed down to calendar days, I am partly relieved and partly haunted by the consequences of my decisions. What does Joburg hold in store for me? I’ve heard of people moving continents in pursuit of their dreams and that makes me feel like a wimp. I’m not there yet. I’m just moving provinces because something (or more honestly, being with someone) compels me to get out of my comfort zone (yes, clichés are often the default) and take the leap of faith and trust my instincts (creativity be damned).

I’m waiting for some emotion to overtake me so I can finally have a definite answer for the questions about what I feel about moving to Joburg and leaving Cape Town. I want to be more excited. But after all the paper work I’ve had to deal with in the most recent weeks, I’m hardly excited. I’m mellow, almost simmering with something that could be excitement. I want to be excited but the thought of what lies ahead of me before the mid-December 14 hour drive keeps reigning me in. I have to mark hundreds of exam scripts. I’m going to spend my hours in a chair with red pen in hand and invigilating exams. I hate exam time (another story, perhaps for the next post). What a way to go out!






[1] As Julia Robers says in Pretty Woman