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Eusebius McKaiser’s Touching Tribute to His Primary School Teachers for World Teachers Day

Could I Vote DA?A Bantu in My BathroomEusebius McKaiser, political commentator and author of Could I Vote DA?: A Voter’s Dilemma and A Bantu in My Bathroom: Debating Race, Sexuality and Other Uncomfortable South African Topics, recently wrote an article for The Star about schools that are under resourced but produce great results all the same.

McKaiser wrote the column in celebration of World Teachers’ Day. He speaks about his time at St Mary’s, a school “on the wrong side of Grahamstown’s inequality divide”. The beautiful thing about his primary school, McKaiser says, was the “the dedication, pride and hard work” of its teachers.

Although the credit for his later scholastic achievements is given to the wealthier Graeme College that he later attended, the groundwork laid by the dedicated and generous primary school teachers made all that possible. He says many lessons can be learned from under resourced schools like St Mary’s.

Read the article:

Lessons from a poorly resourced school
Eusebius McKaiser

St Mary’s in Grahamstown has offered an excellent education despite not being optimally funded by the state, writes Eusebius McKaiser.

Today is World Teachers’ Day. I want to tell you about my remarkable primary school, St Mary’s, situated on the wrong side of Grahamstown’s inequality divide.

My primary school was – and still is – in the heart of Grahamstown’s coloured township and was exclusively for coloured children, this being a dictate of apartheid geography and apartheid education policy.

A few hundred metres from my school, however, you would find some of the country’s wealthiest private schools, like Kingswood College, and a little further on was a fee-paying state school, Graeme College, which I would later attend.

But here’s the beautiful thing about St Mary’s: the dedication, pride and hard work of most of the teachers there in the 1980s, and at least the early 1990s, were such that we were getting a brilliant education despite the lack of wealth and investment in the school.

Mrs Higgins, an old white lady with deep compassion for each of her pupils, cycled from town to teach music at the school. I learnt to play the recorder and the piano with Mrs Higgins. And while I have credited my awesome Graeme College teachers who helped me get an A in classical music, the truth is that underresourced St Mary’s Primary laid the foundation for my musical development. Mrs Higgins made me fall in love with scales, arpeggios, sight reading, sight whistling (as a merciful substitute for sight singing!) and composers from different eras, and she helped me get through my annual Royal Schools of Music exams.

Thank you Mrs Higgins for pedagogical excellence in the face of apartheid logic that tried to undermine the development of the black child and prevent cross-racial relationships, which you quietly defied.

Thinking about my primary school teachers, I realised it is impossible to choose just one or two as exemplary educationalists at St Mary’s.

There was Mrs Carrol Wessels, a long-legged beauty of a teacher with a glint in her eye. She made me fall in love with reading (even if it was Boet en Saartjie, two white characters not from my world), and so I learnt to run off to the library near the school in the afternoons.

Mrs Daphne Mager (she is retired now, so I can let out the secret) took such a liking to me that I would often go to her house, help her with her marking (I gave some of my classmates a gold star and failed others with a red pen!), do some gardening with her, and just marvel at the silence and size of her big house before returning to my family’s council-issued one down the road.

Mrs Mager was more a mother who can teach than just a teacher. To this day I remember some of her Grade 4 classes, like when I’m hung over and appreciating lots of water. In one of my Grade 4 gesondheidsleer (health studies) tests we had to complete the sentence: Water dien as ’n… (Water serves as a…) The philosophy student in me now laughs at this badly worded question but I knew the answer back then: Water dien as ’n reinigingsmiddel! (Water serves as a cleanser), although translations are imperfect). You know when you have a babalaas? Yes? And water does magic down your throat? That’s what Mrs Mager meant, but, no, that is my own adult reinterpretation, of course!

Ms Delores Jacobs was the popular unmarried teacher, and rather tall like other teachers from her family of teachers. She drove a small brown Mini in Grahamstown, which some of the pupils fancied they were able to drive.

She spoke with a brei, which made her fun to listen to. You couldn’t be scared of Ms Jacobs because she was too sweet, even when she admonished us, saying “Empty vessels make the biggest noise!”

She taught English, and to this day I remember many of her captivating lessons, including my favourite one on prepositions. I was fascinated that one “prefers coffee to tea!” It felt so counter-intuitive to say “to” in that sentence because in my mother tongue that doesn’t make sense.

Ms Jacobs ( Delores Athiemulam ) gave me the confidence to go to Graeme College even though I wasn’t yet fluent in English.

When I think about all these experiences, I think about how important it is for us to learn lessons from under-resourced schools that excel despite the adverse conditions they face. Money from the Catholic Church helped St Mary’s, so it isn’t as badly off as other state schools. And exceptions among the poor is no substitute for structural change. Even so, St Mary’s offered an excellent education despite not being optimally resourced by the state.

It did so because of quality school leadership, dedicated teachers, and a sense of community ownership of the school. We would do well to value the teaching profession far more than we do as a society, and affirm those teachers who excel despite gross inequities in education.

Book details

  • A Bantu in My Bathroom: Debating Race, Sexuality and Other Uncomfortable South African Topics by Eusebius McKaiser
    EAN: 9781920434373
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