Could hiring “second-career” teachers improve our education system?

What do a nuclear physicist, a PR person and a human resources manager have in common? They all opted out of lucrative jobs and into teaching. GOOLAM HASSEN spoke to three young teachers at the Springs-based Enderun College to find out why.

Teaching is a highly fraught profession and a cause for much concern in a country with many education challenges, including poor subject knowledge and teacher training. Only 81% of teachers in South Africa are qualified at all, and most of those – 66% – have only three years of tertiary education. Given the high stress and relatively low pay that many teachers have to cope with, most people with advanced degrees prefer to give teaching a wide berth. But not all of them.

Zubair KathradaFor Zubair Kathrada (26), the decision to switch from corporate communications to teaching came down to one thing work-life balance.

“People just work and work. You give your whole life working and [in the end] you don’t have anything. Your life is work, you come home, you’re tired, you sleep.”

Kathrada wanted something more out of life, and decided teaching might be it. But the switch, of course, wasn’t simple.

“When I decided to join this school, I was thrown in the deep end,” he said. “Last year I did EMS [economic and management sciences], I did English, I did creative arts. That was my initial offer. This year I’m more into my field of commerce and teach EMS.”

Kathrada, who is currently completing his post-graduate certificate in education (PGCE) through Unisa, had help along the way from the education department.

“A lady from the department of education came with all the information for business studies. Ultimately we still follow the similar Caps syllabus, and she came and she was really helpful. I was assisted with all the assessments and received tremendous support,” he said.

The extra year of studying gave him the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of teaching and operating in a classroom environment.

“I was fortunate enough to have a good set of teachers by my side who assisted and guided me,” he added. “Over time you develop a teaching style and get comfortable in classroom.”

Teaching has allowed him to give back to others, he said.

“You feel a sense of goodness in your heart. It’s that sense that you’re doing for learners who possibly would never have this possibility. It makes me feel good,” he said.

Raihaanah MoosaRaihaanah Moosa (26), who majored in management and human resources for her commerce degree, said she also switched to teaching because she was looking for a “sense of purpose”. Moosa worked at a company in Sandton until switching to teaching late last year.

“I felt that I was just working [to make someone rich] and had no sense of purpose,” she said.

Now, knowing her role has a greater purpose, she says, makes her look forward to each new work week.

“When you come in on a Monday morning, [the kids] are so excited to tell you about what they did the whole weekend … It makes me want to come to work every week,” she said.

Moosa said she’s benefited immensely from having had a first career in a different field.

“I would advise someone not to just go into teaching, because when I came to this school, I brought all that work experience to the classroom,” she said. “Being a specialist in your area, then going into teaching makes a huge difference.”

Taahir HoosenTaahir Hoosen (24) Â had just graduated with a degree in nuclear physics when he was approached to teach at Enderun, but he was at a crossroads he loved physics but jobs in nuclear physics are hard to come by, he had a passion for the subject but no experience in teaching at school. In the end, he turned to his father for career advice.

“My father always told me to do teaching, as a basis, because there’s always a job for teachers,” he said.

There were two things in his favour when he made the switch – Hoosen is a physics specialist and had been a tutor at university. Now he had the opportunity to pass his passion for physics on to others, while also feeding his own love for the subject.

“I began to enjoy the teaching aspect because it’s in my field [I] have more knowledge than your average teacher. I know physics, so if a child asks me “Why?” I can tell them why,” he said.

Teaching, he said, offers him the flexibility to continue his studies in physics part-time while still contributing to the education of others, and earning a pay check.

With a 14,000-strong shortfall of teachers in the country, jobless university grads and second-career teachers could be the way to plug holes in the education system.

And there’s another challenge that young teachers like Kathrada, Moosa and Hoosen could help alleviate – the education department’s ageing workforce. Most SA teachers are aged between 40 and 49. In just over a decade, many of them will be headed for retirement.