Building a strong and inspired teaching force in South Africa

I have worked in the educational field for more than 20 years, mainly working with teachers, offering them professional development and training, and giving them classroom-based support. One of the main things I have learnt is that teaching is tough!

The longer I am involved in teaching, the more I realise that teaching is Art and Science combined, as it is such a complex and intricate profession.

Teachers are required to be ‘on top’ in regard to their area of speciality, and they must also be able to adapt to imparting this knowledge, at different depths and levels, to various age groups.  Simultaneously teachers need to take into consideration differentiation, classroom management and assessment tools, while always keeping in mind the home backgrounds and emotional states of the learners, and at the end of all this they must remain well-balanced and sane!  With all the talks on technological trends in education, the one role, I have no doubt will remain is that of the teacher. No sophisticated online, e-learning cloud can replace the physical and mental human being that’s called a teacher.

We therefore need to invest in our teachers, by treating them as professionals and prioritising their status to one of the top ranks on the professional scale.  No other entity has the most impact on the future of education in the country than the teacher. Mckinsey reports, James Stronge’s research and the findings by Harry Wong all conclude that the single greatest effect on student achievement is the effectiveness of the teacher. If students’ achievements eventually determine the number of critical thinkers, the level of Science Literacy, and the number of future innovators and entrepreneurs the country produces, then the link of teachers to the future economy of the country is non-negotiable.

In order to raise the professional standards of teachers, some major steps need to be taken in South Africa. There is a need to raise the quality of pre-service teacher training offered by universities, especially in the field of Math, Science and Technology (MST) Education, where the MST Task team, nominated by the DBE Minister, found that the Higher Education Institutes are failing to deliver new adequately qualified MST teachers.
NewTeacherOnce teachers are in the system, a proper induction programme has to be implemented to support them and to prevent them dropping out early in their career. In countries like Singapore, a new teacher is assigned a mentor for a minimum period of 2-3 years.
Continuous and appropriate professional development needs to be implemented throughout a teacher’s career.  “Unless we continue to grow and learn as teachers after we graduate, within 3 to 5 years we will revert to teaching in ways we remember being taught…” Dr Dennis Rose.
So far ad-hock training has been provided to teachers without any Professional Development Plan and reporting system being put in place to monitor growth, relevancy and implementation.

Another important element, which must not be neglected, in applying any educational interventions, is to involve the teacher in the conceptualisation of reforms, or interventions.
The shift begins with the teachers and it will happen if there is buy-in from them. So far educational reforms have been done top-down, without much consultation with teachers. There is a major need to look at a bottom-up approach and get teachers to become proactive from the commencement of a reform, and therefore to become responsible and accountable professionals.

Giving teacher’s prestigious professional ranking, will also require that they are attractively compensated financially.   Another consideration is linking teachers’ performance to pay.

Another challenge that needs to be overcome is the generally negative perception that people have of teachers. How can we change this? That remains a challenge!

Lee Iacocca, an American businessman had this to say about teachers:

“In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else”.