“If I Was Able to Do Something Else, I Would,” Says South African Teacher

By Mary-Anne Gontsana

Teaching is tough in overcrowded schools with ill-disciplined sometimes violent learners.

A Khayelitsha high school teacher describes the difficult conditions she works in. Archive photo: Masixole Feni

“If I could change careers I would… Teaching is not easy,” says a teacher who has spent 12 years at a high school in Khayelitsha.

The teacher, who preferred to stay anonymous, told GroundUp: “We teach some very ill-disciplined children, and sometimes there is nothing you can do about it … Discipline and respect is not something that they are taught at home.”

Last week, two learners, both girls, had an argument during one of her lessons. They were swearing at each other. She didn’t know what to do.

Once she says, a learner “started arguing with me and was on the verge of beating me up, but the other teachers intervened”.

“Then there is the issue with cellphones. No cellphones at school is a school rule, but learners still use them here at school. Then there is overcrowding. I teach about 50 learners per lesson in one class. How am I supposed to cope?” she asks.

She says her school is one of the top ones in Khayelitsha, but in a neighbourhood plagued by crime.

“There is a big problem with gangsterism, drugs and crime here in Bongweni and some of the learners get mixed up in those things. I don’t know how many of our ex-learners I can count, who are now into crime and drugs. Sometimes I get knocks on the door at my own home from ex learners who are begging for food or spare change,” she said.

“You see learners dragging their feet. There is no sense of urgency to get to their next class. It’s like they are just at school because they have to be, not because they want to be,” she said.

“I went into teaching because it was so glorified but no, it is tough. If I was able to do something else, I would, but there is no money for that, so here I am.”