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Educating young educators – the untapped South African resource

| September 14, 2018 | 0 Comments


With diversity and recruitment being a priority for all independent schools in South Africa, we often look for experienced teachers to fill our ranks.

Hiring newly qualified teachers is always a risk and they often require a great deal of coaching before a school can feel confident in its decision to hire them. At Uplands College in White River, Mpumalanga, we have engaged with this issue and several others by getting involved in the University of Pretoria’s 4th Year Teaching Practical programme.1 The university requires its final-year students to complete two terms of practical teaching before they can qualify as educators. There is a great need for schools willing to host these students for their practical teaching and most Pretoria schools find their facilities overrun by eager student teachers looking for a place at which they can complete their required modules.

Reciprocity reaps rewards

The journey started with a need: Uplands, like many others, is situated far away from universities and colleges, whereas many city schools have the luxury of employing student-coaches to maximise their co-curricular programmes. Staffing options were limited and the school needed help. We discussed the possibilities and made a proposal to our management team. We needed coaches, but our feeling was that here we had an opportunity not just to benefit from these students, but actually to make a difference in their education. The plan was simple: we would use them as extra coaches in the afternoon and in exchange we would give them the practical teaching experience that had not been attempted on such a scale before. Our goal was to make sure that these student teachers would leave Uplands fully equipped to teach. The students have to teach 27 lessons each term. These terms are divided into two blocks, one being assessed by the university and the other by the hosting school. Thinking back on their own first year of teaching, many people cringe at how little they really knew when they started out as newly qualified teachers. It can be overwhelming and many young teachers leave the profession because they feel illequipped for the reality that is education. Personally, looking back at my first year, there were similar trends in my experiences as an educator. Like many young South African teachers who flocked to the UK, the realisation struck soon after landing in London that all my university lectures had left me ill-equipped for inner-city London and the British education system. This was, however, where my own education as a teacher started and I still see that seven-year experience as a positive one.

Several factors result in success

The Practical Teaching Programme at Uplands strives to expose young educators to as many real teaching experiences as possible. We host these students on campus for both terms of their practical module and make them part of the Uplands community. We are in our second year of the programme and will be returning to the university in Term 3 to recruit our third group. Our programme has been successful owing to several factors:

1. We actively recruit at the university and suitable applicants undergo an interview process.

2. We select students who will fit in and make a positive contribution to the school.

3. We host these students on campus as a group and make them part of our community.

4. We pair them intentionally with mentor-teachers who are passionate about training and developing future educators.

5. We train them and make sure that they are employable through a structured training programme.

6. Inclusivity: this might be the most important factor, because when they arrive they are treated as staff members. They are valued and developed as our equals.

7. As a boarding school community, we see ourselves a family. They truly become part of this family.

Our first year saw the student teachers stay with one teacher for all their lessons. However, this year we encouraged them to pair up with several teachers and learn from various examples. Every teacher has a different style and by pairing them with numerous class teachers, students find their own comfort zone. This has been highly successful and they actively seek out engagement with our staff. Our mentor-teachers become their sounding boards and help them manage their time, as well as giving them the critical feedback needed as part of their development. They are assessed during the term by their own mentors, their peers and one nominated person on the staff who does not act as a mentor, in order to standardise the assessment.

Creating confident new teachers

In 2017 Uplands started with eight students, all of them at the college. We expanded our programme in 2018 and took in prep and pre-prep students as well. They now help in all facets of Uplands life and we benefit in the classrooms and in boarding, as well as on the sports fields and on the cultural stage. Like all young people, they have brought energy to our staff and we have benefited immensely from their involvement. The pupils love their fresh ideas and vibrant personalities. These young teachers and future colleagues are the future we all hope for in South African education. They leave Uplands as confident and competent young people, ready to make a difference.

Pieter van Zyl is head of Founders House at Uplands College.

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Category: Spring 2018

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