VELI MNISI has taught at schools in Matsulu, Mpumalanga for 27 years. Today, he is the principal at S’bongile Primary School. On World Teacher’s Day, Zilungile Mnisi asked him to reflect on his teaching career.
I have always loved teaching – when I was in grade two I enjoyed being a “play teacher” to learners in the lower grade. At a young age, I pictured myself in front of a class and educating other people. To me, education is a way of showing unconditional love, nurturing learners, and seeing them prosper through education.
For teachers, every day unfolds with something new. I’m doing something that I love and almost every day has its own highlights. I was proud to have been named best English teacher for grade 9 in the Annual National Assessments awards in my region, Nkululeko circuit, last year. But seeing my students succeed and having the pleasure of meeting someone who I once taught, who shows appreciation towards me for having an impact on their lives, is one of the highlights of my career.
I started teaching in the 1980s, straight out of high school. There was a shortage of teachers in the community and it wasn’t uncommon for passionate matriculants to be given a chance to teach. I was one of those unqualified teachers.
It was a really challenging time for teachers, particularly during the state of emergency in 1986. I injured my ankle while running from a commotion that broke out at school, and because I wasn’t technically a teacher, the school couldn’t be held responsible for anything that happened to me.
Being unqualified not only got me injured, but my superiors would intimidate me. They took advantage of the fact that I was not qualified and made me do things like fixing broken windows or attending union meetings and reporting back to them. I wasn’t even a member of the union, but I had to do it because I didn’t have a formal qualification.
Incidents like these pushed me to get my formal teaching qualifications. I ended up studying full time at Mgwenya College, through the Kangwane government bursary programme, and acquired a primary teacher’s diploma three years later.
Today, teaching is still challenging for educators. Currently, I have about 60 learners in a class. With a class of this size, it’s difficult for teachers to see each learner’s potential and to address their individual needs. It would be better if I could teach half that number.
Teachers have the ability to unlock potential. My former teachers have led me to be the kind of teacher that I am today. My grade 6 English teacher, Mr Nyoni, was so inspiring that, even today, I find myself imitating him when I teach. My high school English teacher, Mr. Khoza, taught beyond the syllabus – he was not just a teacher, but a mentor and someone who gave us guidance even with things that didn’t involve school.
It’s days like World Teachers’ Day that remind me that the work that we do does not go in vain. Education is one of the weapons we can use to liberate a child’s mind. I want to be counted among those who contribute towards a child’s future.
– As told to Zilungile Mnisi
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