I have been teaching in Lavender Hill for the past 35 years. I have seen young boys being killed because of the violence and girls falling pregnant, intelligent boys becoming gang leaders — and still we are teaching in the Lavender Hill area.
Why? What is it that keeps us in the world of education? Could it be the love of children, trying to bring changes in the community or is it to be available to parents, knowing full well you can only listen and be sympathetic towards the pain and suffering that they are going through? Or perhaps it’s because education doesn’t start with school or end with teachers. It’s a community endeavour that requires teachers to be parents and parents to be teachers. To be greeted in the morning by a child and see behind the smile a scared little soul crying out: “My parents were fighting last night. We had to run or sleep
in the cold. We had nothing to eat” is a common occurrence, but not one that gets any easier. What do we do to help thechildren? They trust us. We know them better than their parents do. They are in our care from 8:30 to 2:30 and sometimes till 17:30 in the evening. You see the child coming to school for the first time aged five years and leave at 13 to 14 years to go to high school. We have to mould them to become responsible individuals, to dream and not let poverty, unemployment or social problems get the better of them, nor let them feel that theyare useless and label them as such.
The days of simply offering what’s on the curriculum are long gone
At our school we try to build our children’s self-esteem, to develop a sense of belonging, show them self-respect and love them so that even if the world around them turns violent and angry, they will know love, they will have experienced respect and they will have a stronger sense of self. Sometimes it’s as simple as being prepared to receive a kiss from a snotty or dirty face, giving them a hug, a smile, a good-bye in the afternoon as they leave and telling them that they are important.
The days of simply offering what’s on the curriculum are long gone. Our children need us to develop them holistically, on an educational level, yes, but also on a social and sporting level. The truth is that every one of us is an educator and that educators are also mothers, psychologists and friends. What is my reward you ask? It’s when a learner comes back to me and says: “Thank you. Now I know why you were so strict with us. You saw our potential.” That is my reward.
When a gangster from your community can, many years later, still respect you, then you know you have succeeded. The success of our school is that each and every educator is special. We are a team and a team is only as strong as its weakest link. As a leader, I must know the interests of each educator, their personal lives and the interest of the learners, to be able to develop a successful institution. It’s the same with our children.
There are many things written and said about Lavender Hill, not many of them uplifting or hopeful. But what I see around me is what I would hope to see more of in our society — a deep sense of community and a willingness to share what little they have with others. Our school isn’t rich in resources but it is enriched by the respect it receives from the children and the com-munity. And that’s a good start. Today we will build on this so that tomorrow we can build a better future.
— Rachel Claassen