I tighten the straps of my backpack and take a deep breath. My eyes dart back and forth amid the sea of faces as the cacophony of a hundred different voices fill my ears. It’s all I can do to pay attention to where I am headed on this sunny day in September, my very first day of school. I am five years old and ready to begin the biggest adventure of my life.
Fifteen years later, I was again filled with the same familiar mix of emotions as I stepped onto the grounds of Ensomnawe Primary School last week. Riding the wave of nerves and energy, this time I stepped into the classroom, not as a student, but a teacher. Although I had tutored throughout my life, this was the first time that I had really been given the responsibility of helping someone to see the world differently, the same way that my teachers have done through grade school and college. Knowing that I had the power to shape someone’s life through my work at this school was both exhilarating and terrifying.
One of the first lessons that I was taught at teacher is that it is a lot harder than I thought. We take so much knowledge for granted—you are probably reading the words on this page without even thinking about the fact that you can easily do so. But to teach someone the concepts of math or grammar—to show people why things are the way they are—that is really difficult.
Although the South African government spends about 20% of it’s annual GDP on education, there are still so many areas in which it is lacking. For example, there is often one teacher assigned to three or four classes of more than 30 children. Because of this, most of the day is spent without the care or supervision of a teacher. In addition, a lot of the learning process is based on just memorization rather than understanding, so children will go through the whole system knowing their multiplication tables or part of a book but not actually knowing how to multiply or read. A big part of our work is going back over things that might have been learned a few years ago, taking it apart, and relearning it.
Although there is a lot of work to be done, the kids are absolutely wonderful. Every day they greet me with so much joy and always will write me notes a little along the lines of “I love you so so so much I will love you always thank you for being so great love you like a mom love thank you beautiful.”
Coaching has also been pretty amazing. Even though I know little to nothing about soccer, I’ve been working with my friends Chris and Jess and had a great time visiting different schools and playing games with them. It’s a nice break from a day of classes and, even though I’m awful, a great way to be out for some plain old fun.
All in all, I am absolutely loving being where I am, doing what I’m doing, with who I’m with. I’m excited to continue to do bigger and better things here in Port Elizabeth and to be transformed by the process.