There are few vocations more honourable than being a teacher.
My first teacher, my grade one teacher, was Mrs. de Villiers. She showed me that learning should be fun. She never made any of our classes a chore, in fact, school was a joy!
She taught me, to love to learn.
When I was at primary school, music was a compulsory subject. Our music teacher, Mrs Werner, had been the music teacher at the school for over a decade. Music was in her whole being. She loved everything to do with music and she loved sharing the beauty of music with us. She taught us about every instrument, in every section, of an entire orchestra. She let us listen to classical music while she would ‘interpret’ it for us.
Her love of music touched many of our lives.
In the early part of high school, I rebelliously carved out a reputation of being the class clown. It was a position I enjoyed and could own, without having to take any risks. I could ‘hide’ behind being the clown, and never had to achieve anything of significance as a student. I was ‘safe’ from having to do any real work. Most of my grades reflected my bad attitude. This resulted in most of my teachers disliking me too. The cycle was set.
Every day I was expected to fail, and every day I completely succeeded.
Mr Muller was one of those larger than life art teachers. He had scruffy hair and a scruffy beard and even looked a little like a deranged Vincent van Gogh. And he oozed artistic talent. To my delight, he took a liking to some of the work I produced. It started with one painting. He raved about it to the class, a feeling I will never forget. Mr Muller continued to push me to be my best, even once shouting at me to get his point across.
He never allowed me off the hook to do less than great work.
I changed schools for my final two years of high school, when we moved to a new suburb. I wouldn’t know it at the time, but looking back, that move certainly saved me from failing a year, if not two, of high school. It was that bad.
Mrs Blazey taught me to love the English language. Whether it was Shakespeare or George Bernard Shaw, poetry or a classic novel, grammar or punctuation, she delighted in it all.
She taught me to love to read. Name a better gift?
The first day at my new high school, sitting at the back of the math class, the teacher Mr Hall, shouted over to me, “You! New boy! Stand up and give the class the Pythagorean Theorem?” I stood up out of my chair, almost frozen, as the whole class turned to look at, ‘the new boy.’ I felt my colour change to deep red, my mouth was dry, I had small beads of sweat on my forehead and my top lip, I felt faint. All I managed to mumble was, “The who, Sir?”
Mr Hall asked me to stay behind after the lesson, so that we could talk. I don’t remember the rest of that lesson, but I remember what he said to me after class. “I don’t care where you have come from, or what you have done before you walked into my class. But, I believe you can do this. You are not as stupid as you are making out to be!”
“ Now, how are we going to get you back on track in maths?”
Mrs England taught science at my new school. As hard as I tried, nothing was making any sense. Until one day, Mrs England introduced us to the Periodic Table. While she was busy explaining how the chemical elements are organised, by their atomic number and electron configuration, I suddenly understood the whole thing! I mean the whole periodic table! She was firing questions at the class, and my hand kept shooting up, no-one else had the answers!
Mrs England asked me to stay behind after class, so that we could talk. She said she had been watching me. And she knew that I had it in me but that I just needed to believe I can do it first.
“The minute you made up your mind that you can do it, is when it became possible.”
It’s easy to hide. It feels safe. It is far harder to pick yourself. I’m so thankful to the great teachers and educators that helped me come out of hiding and to believe in myself.
Have an awesome weekend!
Originally published at https://www.leapfirst.co.za on July 26, 2020.